Anybody who’s been reading this blog for awhile knows I’m a great fan of master utility builder Nir Sofer, the Israeli software development dynamo who’s behind the terrific NirSoft.net website. Today’s blog pays homage to another of his little gems: this one is named WifiInfoView, which Sofer describes as a “Wi-Fi Scanner for Windows 7/8/Vista.”
The WifiInfoView Utility has lots of useful information to show about WiFi networks in your vicinity (click image to view full-size version).
I like to use this tool to observe what my wireless router (“Narbor”) is showing to the world at large, and to get a sense of what else is active my wireless neighborhood. I’m a little embarrassed to observe that somebody nearby (“Jorge54”) has already beat me to deploying 802.11ac. In fact, this spurred me on to order the highly-reviewed and -regarded ASUS AC1900 Dual Band Gigabit Router from Newegg. I also like to use this tool when traveling to scan my wireless environs to see what kinds (and speeds) of connections might be available to me (on more than one occasion, I’ve discovered a higher-speed wireless Guest network than the one my host of the moment advised me to login into).
The WifiInfoView program icon describes its function visually and concisely.
The utility occupies a mere 235 KB of disk space, with just under 300 KB for the entire collection (which includes configuration, help, and readme files, in addition to WifiInfoView.exe). This makes it well-suited for inclusion on any admin’s traveling utility USB flash drive (as is the case for most of Mr. Sofer’s utility offerings), or for routine installation for power users’ (or other interested parties) laptop, notebook, or tablet PCs. Please dash out and grab yourself a copy today, then spend a few minutes checking out the rest of the Nirsoft collection. You won’t be disappointed.
This interesting post last week on the Windows PowerShell Blog is entitled “A World of Scripts at your Fingertips — Introducing Script Browser,” and explains how you can download the aforementioned item to run inside the PowerShell ISE (Integrated Scripting Environment). This grabs a Microsoft Software Installer (.msi) file that’s 1,390 KB in size, and runs a search tool from inside the ISE to help users browse through over 10,000 PowerShell scripts available from TechNet, the PowerShell team at Microsoft, and the folks at “the Garage.”
Though the screen cap is too small to read in detail, you can consult the full-size original for easier deciphering.
Adding this tool to your PowerShell ISE environment produces two additional add-on tabs in the pane at the right-hand side of the UI, as shown above. The left-most tab is labeled “Script Browser” and provides entry to a search dialog like the one shown below:
The search box pane permits users to search and peruse elements from a huge collection of scripts; very handy.
You have the ability to filter searches by resource (PowerShell, Microsoft, Community), various ways to categorize listings, and easy access to summary info and download links for each search hit.
The script analyzer, which appears in the second tab from the left, labeled “Script Analyzer,” provides access to marked up script listing data in the left-hand pane, and error messages in the right hand pane, which makes it an excellent run-time debugging tool.
All in all this is a powerful, helpful, and free tool for script-heads to download and use. Highly recommended.
When I reported here on April 8 that the “Windows 8.1 Update 1 is NOT Optional,” I was working from the then-current and correct understanding that MS would require all users to apply the Spring Update to Windows 8.1 to continue to receive security updates, patches, and fixes via Windows Update. I also observed that it was time for enterprises to “Get Busy” because the testing and vetting cycle in many larger organization normally exceeds the 5 weeks or so that Microsoft was allowing at the time. I guess enough enterprise customers must have remonstrated with Microsoft, because the company has now relented on its timing for requiring the application of the Spring Update for business customers.
The normal enterprise deployment cycle includes testing before deployment, which takes some time. Nice for MS to recognize this.
[Image Credit: Shutterstock 178153691 © Arka38]
Last week, in fact, Mary Jo Foley reported over at ZDNet that “Microsoft gives business users more time to install Windows 8.1 Update,” wherein she reported that for users who manage their updates via WSUS, Windows Intune or System Center Configuration Manager, they now have until August 12, 2014, to apply this update before it becomes mandatory. End Users who rely on Windows Update are still bound to the original May 12 deadline, however.
In the meantime, MS will make all Patch Tuesday items available as standalone installers via the Knowledge Base so that enterprise class users will be able to pick and choose which items that may be released on the Patch Tuesdays in May, June or July of this year that they want to apply, even in the absence of Update 1. It just goes to show you that MS will indeed listen to its biggest customers, especially when they hue and cry is both loud and frequent enough to really get their attention. Thus, you may now return to your normal testing and vetting schedules, ladies and gentlemen in the corporate testing and deployment teams!
As I’ve observed many times in this blog over the years, I’m a hopeless tinkerer. This even applies to my production system when the whim strikes and time permits. My current production machine features the following collection of components (among others): an Asus P8X68-V Pro Gen3 motherboard, an i7-2600K CPU, 32 GB RAM, and a pair of OCZ Vertex SSDs (an older 128 GB Vertex 3 and a newer 256 GB Vertex 4 that serves as the boot/system drive). I hope I can be forgiven for wanting to add the Intel Rapid Start Technology to this machine. But because it was installed with the SATA drives set up as AHCI not RAID, I decided to try a post-install conversion technique I read about online to switch from the former to the latter (the technique required a reboot, a switch to RAID in the BIOS, and a safe boot to give Windows the chance to load new drivers). Long story short: it didn’t work and I found myself compelled to repair my now unbootable machine.
Don’t be inclined to think of a system refresh as the same as an image restore of the system drive: there are some key differences.
Before starting down this road to potential perdition, I made two “backups” of the system disk: one using SlimImage Utilities’ RecImgManager, the other using the “System Image Backup” facility now present in Windows 8.1 as an add-on feature in the File History widget in Control Panel. Just for grins, I started my recovery efforts with the Refresh option for which RecImgManager had created my most recent refresh image, to see how it would all pan out.
It’s interesting that RecImgManager describes the operation of capturing a refresh image as an explicit “Backup” operation, when in fact that’s not exactly how it works. To be fair, it’s close, but it’s also no cigar, either. Here’s what I found that was different after refreshing the image I captured just before beginning my “convert-to-RAID” manueuvers:
1. The restore operation informed me that I would need to reinstall Kindle reader, OneDrive, and WinDirStat once the restore was complete. This proved only partially correct, as both OneDrive and WinDirStat were present and working when the refresh image came up on the PC. Kindle was indeed missing.
2. I had to reload the printer driver for my Samsung ML-2850 laser printer into the refreshed image.
3. When I ran Outlook again for the first time after the refresh took over, I had to reconfigure the whole darn thing (account set-up, archive handling, e-mail download behavior, switch to my preferred archive PST file, and so forth) all over again.
4. Browser plug-ins for Chrome, IE, and so forth had to be re-examined and enabled/disabled as per prior selections.
5. When I ran 8GadgetPack for the first time, it had to be set up once again, as if for the first time.
It’s possible that I might have encountered a few more things had I stayed with the refresh image longer than the two hours I decided to devote to that experiment. After that, I booted up using my Windows 8.1 Install UFD, elected the “Repair” option, and overwrote the refreshed image with my preserved system image captured earlier that morning. What I got back then was exactly what I wanted — namely, my current runtime environment set up, configuring, and working just the way it was when I captured that system image, and requiring absolutely no fiddling about whatsoever to match prior system behavior, configuration, and so forth.
It all goes to show that a system image backup and restore represents the ability to return to the status quo that prevailed at the time of the image capture, and that a system refresh comes close to doing the same, but isn’t quite exactly identical to the system image restore operation. In some cases, especially where Windows flakiness is involved and replacement of system/boot drive files outside the scope of “OS components” is undesirable or unacceptable, a refresh clearly makes more sense than restoring an earlier system image. But it’s not accurate to think of image restore and refresh as equivalent or identical. They are not, and savvy admins and power users would do well to recognize this and take it into account when formulating Windows recovery strategies and processes. The important distinction is that where Refresh does preserve files and some settings outside the scope of OS components, some additional work will be required to get refreshed system exactly back to where it was at the time the custom windows image (.WIM file) for the underlying Windows installation was captured.
In spelunking around on TechNet, I’ve come across an interesting element in the latest Windows Assessment and Deployment Kit (ADK). It’s called WIMBoot and it appears to explain quite nicely how it is that Microsoft has been able to trim down the size of Windows 8.1 Update 1 installations. In fact MS has a pair of interesting illustrations that *show* how this works, and an explanation as to why a smaller image and runtime environments result. The image pair is best understood as a kind of “before” and “after” scenario, in light of this explanation from the WIMBoot Overview (taken verbatim from its “How does it work?” section):
In a standard Windows installation (without WIMBoot), every file is written to disk at least twice: once in the compressed form for recovery, and once in the uncompressed form in the applied image. When the push-button reset feature is included, the compressed image remains on the PC. Having both the Windows installation and recovery image on the device can take up a lot of disk space.
When installing Windows with WIMBoot, you write the files to the disk only once, in compressed format. Next, you apply a set of pointer files onto the Windows partition that point back to the compressed files in the Images partition. When the user adds files, apps, or updates, they’re added onto the Windows partition.
In WIMBoot, your WIMBoot image is also used as the recovery image, saving disk space.
Here are the symbolic (not-to-scale) disk layouts for the before and after scenarios:
The Standard partition layout includes MSR, WinRE, uncompressed Windows files, and a Recovery partition.
The WimBoot partition layout drops WinRE, keeps Windows files compressed, and stores install.wim, winre.wim, and custom.wim.
Overall savings on disk footprint can be pretty substantial, with reductions in size of 6 GB or greater typical. This is essential for smaller configurations, particularly for tablets with 32 GB of storage space or less, but it could also be nice for tablets, ultrabooks, or notebooks where storage space may still be at a premium. For more information on how to set up and build such installations, see also the following TechNet elements:
1. Create WIMBoot images
2. Deploy WIMBoot Images: If you know the size of the images upfront (explains “push-button reset tools” and includes a pointer on how to Update WinPE5.0 to WinPE5.1)
3. Deploy WIMBoot Images: If you don’t know the size of the images upfront
4. WIMBoot: Identify if your PC is Configured to Boot from a WIM file
I can’t wait to try this out, and see how it goes. I also plan to contact my buddies as Paragon Software to see if they might not be working on some tools to help automate this process. If you know of other tool providers with similar work underway, please drop me an e-mail.
Here’s an interesting note from Michael Hildebrand’s April 7 post to the Ask Premier Field Engineering (PFE) Platforms blog entitled “Exploring Winodws 8.1 Update – Start Screen, Desktop and Other Enhancements” (it occurs far enough down the page that some scrolling may be required to uncover it):
- Failure to install this Update will prevent Windows Update from patching your system with any future updates starting with Updates released in May 2014 (get busy!)
The details about end of support for Windows 8 are buried on this MS web page.
But wait! There’s more to ponder, thanks to further reporting on this phenom at Neowin by John Callahan (“Windows 8.1 Update is a mandatory update for Windows 8.1 users“). First, he informs us that “…Microsoft has already announced it will stop supporting Windows 8 in the very near future.” Subsequent analysis of various indications and “a new FAQ page” reveals that “the final date for Windows 8 support” (for Windows 8 installations not yet upgraded to 8.1 and subsequent mandatory updates) is January 12, 2016, about 20 months from now (see MS Product Lifecycle Search, product name = Windows 8, where it lists 1/12/2016 as the “Service Pack Support End Date”). That means — for those already running Windows 8 — it will soon be time to get off that version and onto Windows 8.1, and thus also, Windows 8.1 Update 1.
That gets us back to where this blog post started: if you run Windows 8.1 (and if you don’t run it now, you should start running it soon), you will have to install the update that will be bundled with the next Patch Tuesday set of offerings. As the PFE blog post so correctly observes for production business/enterprise installations of Windows 8 or 8.1 where pre-deployment testing and vetting can involve up to three months of work, it is indeed time to “get busy!” That also means it’s already time to start working through potential issues and gotchas related to that mandatory update, given that any delays in deployment will also delay propagation of upcoming security updates and hotfixes in production Windows environments going forward.
I know what many enterprise desktop admins are thinking as they read this, and chew over the implications: “Good thing we haven’t yet deployed Windows 8 or 8.1 on any (or too many) of our production machines!” Yeah, sure. But with the “Windows lifecycle fact sheet” also reporting that Windows 7 ends mainstream support on January 13, 2015 (end of life/extended support 5 years later), this is not something that enterprises and organizations can willfully ignore forever. Otherwise, they wind up facing the horns of the current Windows XP dilemma: rapid abandonment and forced updates, or expensive extensions beyond the extended support date.
A couple of interesting stories in the news of late have challenged the conventional understanding that Windows XP will finally, finally shuffle off the stage on April 8, just as the latest Windows 8.1 Update is pushed out via Windows Update. Recent reports indicate that some governments are taking the option to pay Microsoft to keep supporting their massive Windows XP installations for some time to come. Amidst lots of other online stories, Leon Spencer at ZDNet (“Dutch government pays millions to extend Microsoft XP support”) tells us that the Dutch government has struck a deal with MS to obtain support for somewhere between 34 and 40 thousand PCs running XP on the desks of Dutch civil servants. This comes on the heels of a deal announced last week between MS and the UK government for over $9 million to extend XP support for its numerous XP, Office 2003 and Exchange 2003 installations through April 2015.
Windows XP is stubbornly clinging to life, especially within government and large institutional settings.
Industry observers have speculated that other governments — including the US Government, which probably still has tens to hundreds of thousands of PCs still running XP within numerous agencies, arms of (and contractors for) the military, and so forth — may have to cut similar deals with Microsoft to obtain extended support for installations they have been unable to upgrade in advance of tomorrow’s cutoff date. In fact, it looks increasingly like XP will continue to limp along for some time after its official termination date has come and gone. In this report on the situation, Ars Technica’s Sean Gallagher states that the current deals on record “…may be just a drop in the bucket in comparison to what the US government may have to pay for the hundreds of thousands of systems still running XP and other end-of-life software.”
To me, it looks something like the long-lived XP operating system may be morphing into “the OS that wouldn’t die.” It should be interesting to keep tabs on other life extension deals for XP that will undoubtedly be popping up in the weeks and months ahead.
[Note added 4/14/2014: Check out this WinBeta.org story entitled “US Internal Revenue Service to pay Microsoft ‘millions’ for an extra year of security patches:” the IRS will pay MS $11.6 million out of its enforcement budget to keep its 60,000 or so XP PCs under the custom support umbrella through the end of 2014.]
When you download the update from MSDN, the first odd thing you’ll notice is that what shows up as a result is a ZIP file. Upon expansion, this is what the 64-bit version unpacks into:
Update 1 turns out to include 6 standalone installer update files (.msu)
The ReadMe.txt file is actually important because it lists the prescribed order of installation for the files in this collection. Based on the last 3 digits of each KB item involved that order is as follows:
1. 422: on both of my test machines (a desktop with an i7-4770K and a tablet with an i7-U4600) this item shows up as already installed
2. 355: this is the biggest item by far, at nearly 700 MB in size. It took 14 minutes to install on the desktop and 32 minutes on the tablet, including the time to get to a login screen after the restart required post-installation (all of the remaining items also require individual restarts, and are timed to get to a login screen as well).
3. 046: this took about 3 minutes on each machine to complete.
4. 592: this took about 1 minute on the desktop and 1:10 on the tablet.
5. 439: this took less than 1 minute on the desktop and 1:20 on the tablet.
6. 621: this took less than 1 minute on the desktop and 1:25 on the tablet.
Total time required varied from about 20 minutes on the desktop to 39 minutes on the tablet. It was kind of a pain to have to reboot 5 times along the way, but that’s what you must do when using the standalone update installer instead of waiting for Windows Update to batch those items together on your behalf. I’m guessing this will cut at least 6 minutes off the overall install time for users who wait to grab these materials from Windows Update next week.
One more thing: you’ll want to run the “Clean up system files” option in Disk Cleaner after installing these updates on a Windows 8.1 PC. This will recover about 700 MB of storage space on your boot drive (which may be meaningful for those using smaller SSDs to fulfill this role, as many systems do nowadays). The composition in the space recovered shakes down to about 690 MB of Windows Update Cleanup files on the 64-bit systems I updated plus a few other odds’n’ends (numbers will be lower for those running x86 versions of Windows 8.1 instead). Cleanup takes a while, too: about 35 minutes on the desktop, and 60 minutes on the tablet, by my rough measurements.
[Update: 1:40 PM CST after Nadella’s Keynote at BUILD ends]
The Windows 8.1 Update downloads are now available via MSDN. Here’s a screenshot of what’s up there, straight from the lastest “New Subscriber Downloads” list:
There are 6 new Windows 8.1 Update 1 items available for download, as shown here.
Only four of these items (numbered 2 through 6 on the following list) are Windows 8.1 only one each 32 and 64 bit, one each with and without Internet Explorer (the European N version lacks the IE browser usually bundled with US release versions). There is also a bundled update with 8.1, Server 2012 R2, and Embedded 8.1 Industry Update in 64-bit only. I’ll be playing primarily with the 8.1 x64 version myself, and reporting on it soon.
[Original Early AM Post]
The MS Build Conference gets underway today, and rumors are already starting to circulate that the Spring Update for Windows 8.1 will be appearing soon, perhaps even today as well. I just jumped up to MSDN and see nothing on the download pages there just yet, nor can I find any valid download links to grab the latest release, either. Sites as varied as bgr.com and kpopstarz.com are reporting that the bits will become available today, well ahead of the originally projected April 8 drop date.
If Win8.1 had a logo, this is what it might look like. Even though it doesn’t, it may be gaining a “Spring Update” today.
Here’s a quote from BGR on timing and availability:
Developers who have MSDN subscriptions will receive Windows 8.1 Update 1 on April 2nd, once the company unveils the new features in Update 1. Everyone else will receive the update beginning April 8th.
I’ll keep checking MSDN every couple of hours or so, if not more often, and will report back if and when the bits show up today. It’s still only 6:19 AM in Redmond, so it could be a while. If the timing is anything like that for Patch Tuesday, the usual drop time is 11 AM PST (-08:00 UCT), which means we still have four-plus hours to wait before it becomes available. Stay Tuned!
With the Microsoft Build conference teed up for next week, and the Spring Update to Windows 8.1 timed to more or less coincide with that event, I’d have to guess at least some readers are curious as to what this upcoming update holds in store for them. I missed my opportunities to grab all the update files for the upcoming release (there were two of them at various points in March), but PC World didn’t. Their author Brad Chacos has put together an informative slide show captured from a Windows 8.1 test system with the most recent versions of the upcoming update files that he could lay hands on. It’s entitled “Deep inside Windows 8.1’s spring update: New changes in pictures” and I strongly urge curious readers to pay it a visit, and flip through the 15 screens it contains (of which 13 actually present substantive content take direct from the new update itself).
The image on slide 7 in the PC World slideshow shows a snippet of the author’s own test Windows 8.1 Spring Update (Metro) Start Screen.”
The titles for the slides in the show provide a nice capsule summary of what’s inside Windows 8.1 Spring Update:
1. Is the third update the charm?
2. Boot to desktop by default
3. Metro apps on the desktop taskbar
4. Taskbar everywhere
5. Mouse-friendly title bar menus for Metro apps
6. Right-click context menus on Metro Start screen
7. Power, Search buttons on the Start screen
8. New apps installed notification
9. Show more apps on Apps view screen option
10. IE interface tweaks
11. Media files default to Windows Photo Viewer and Media Player
12. Hello, OneDrive!
13. Disk space menu in PC Settings
14. Reduced system requirements
15. Anticipation BUILDs
I’ll be watching MSDN this week to see if the Spring Update doesn’t appear a little early there, as it sometimes does. Count on hearing from me as soon as a legit version pops up anywhere! Ready or not, it’s coming soon…