I’m the reasonably proud owner of a Dell M11X (Alienware) mini-laptop with an i7 26xx processor, 8 GB RAM, and an OCZ Agility 3 SSD. It runs fast enough for me, and has enough horsepower to do everything I ask of it with aplomb, including some occasionally heavy-duty protocol trace capture and analysis (Wireshark rules!). But yesterday, when I turned it on, I couldn’t help but notice that its built-in Intel WiMax 6250 module had gone bye-bye.
When the laptop booted up, it reported that it couldn’t find the WiMax module. So, I ran the Intel WiMax connection utility to try to kick it into presence. No dice. Next, I read the help file to learn that I should probably duck into Programs and Features to run a “repair” operation on the WiMax connection software. And while that went without a hitch, there was still no WiMax module to be found after my next reboot.
Then, I went into Device Manager and, sure enough, no WiMax device appeared under the Network adapters heading, in contradiction to normal behavior. So I dug into the Dell Technical Support site to see if I could find any joy from their help and advice. Zilch.
After that I remembered seeing the WiMax module as I removed the unit’s conventional HD a couple of weeks ago to replace it with the SSD it’s now using. “Could I have jiggled an antenna wire, or loosening the module somehow?” I wondered out loud. Popped open the hatch, and saw nothing amiss with the WiMax 6250 module upon visual inspection but pushed on the antenna connections and made sure the module was tightly socketed anyway.
I’m not sure if this fixed the problem, or if the WiMax module had simply taken a short vacation, but when I rebooted the machine–Presto! The WiMax module appeared, and established its usual rockin’ connection to Clear Communications. Problem solved, with not too much muss or fuss, or time wasted.
What it reminded me of is the old adage about troubleshooting: always look at what else has changed recently on a system when components go kerflooey. Again, I can’t be 100% sure that opening the case and checking the WiMax module fixed my problem. But performing those actions did result in a return to normal function, so I’m not inclined to look this gift horse too deeply in the mouth.
I was kinda glad it turned out that way, because I’d started to investigate the Dell Technical Support channels I would have had to traverse had more serious fixes been required. The only phone number I could find was for premium, added-charge support. I’m not sure my same-day hardware replacement support warranty gets me that high up the food chain, and I guess I save the effort involved in climbing that learning curve for another day!
In my previous blog “The Changing Face of OS Migration: Windows 7 and Beyond” I ruminated on the state of Windows desktop deployments in modern enterprises, based on a discussion on November 16 with Aaron Suzuki, CEO of Prowess, the makers of the SmartDeploy toolset for Windows operating systems and applications. In that first blog in this two part series, I laid out the current situation that the vast majority of enterprises face on their desktops (and servers) today: a heterogeneous situation where OSes are no longer migrated in lock-step, and where the age of the hardware often dictates the OS it uses (particularly on desktops, where enterprise buyers often elect to have vendors provide them with pre-installed reference images on new machines, usually running Microsoft’s latest and greatest desktop OS).
In this blog, I’ll recount some of the specific pain points that Mr. Suzuki reported hearing from his customers, and how SmartDeploy Enterprise (and the Prowess sister product SmartMigrate) can help to address them.
Managing Device Drivers Is Key
According to Suzuki, managing device drivers often ends up being a bigger problem than managing the OS itself, and also often involves a great deal more time and effort from a maintenance perspective as well SmartDeploy solves this problem by separating drivers both logically and physically from the OS/software imge, and packaging these elements separate and distinctly. Each driver package, called a “platform pack” in SmartDeploy parlance, enables enterprises to manage drivers by hardware model, configuration, device configurations, and so forth. Some organizations may manage as many as 60 or 70 such driver packs, while others find it necessary only to define and manage a dozen or two. Once a driver pack is defined, the regular SmartDeploy management console handles its application and use simply and directly. These ensure that the right drivers are available at deployment time, and help ease the most common (and vexatious) issues that can occur during actual roll-outs.
Single Point of Management and Control for All Windows Machines
Easy definition and management of drivers, plus OS and application images, enables SmartDeploy users to manage multiple Windows environments from the same toolset, all the way back to Windows 2000, along with XP, and even Vista, as well as Windows 7. And Prowess is working assiduously to get ready for the upcoming release of new server and desktop OSes from Microsoft around the end of 2012 as well. This provides a single point of management and control for all Windows desktops and servers in the enterprise, and is gaining considerable traction and adoption from a broad range of enterprise customers around the world. With over 84,000 desktops in its biggest deployment, Suzuki is also confident of the platform’s ability to scale well, and to handle heterogeneous hardware and operating systems with panache.
SmartDeploy also permits consolidating images from multiple operating systems into a single image file, something that I plan to learn more about after New Year’s from other members of the Prowess technical staff. At that point, I’ll report back with further details. In the meantime, check out the SmartDeploy home page for more information on the company’s products and platforms. Interesting and capable stuff!
Last week I had the pleasure of talking to Aaron Suzuki, the co-founder and CEO of Prowess, a Seattle-and Salt Lake City-based software company best known for its SmartDeploy product suite. In an upcoming blog, I’ll write about what’s up with SmartDeploy and why it could be interesting to readers responsible for managing packaging, deployment, and maintenance of Windows desktops. In this blog, however, I want to ruminate about the changing face of desktop deployment and use in the enterprise.
One of the elements of my conversation with Mr. Suzuki that struck me most as we were talking, also has come back to me repeatedly as I’ve tried to understand what’s happening in many, many enterprises around our globe. The facts that drive these ruminations are:
- only 20-25 percent of global enterprises have made significant progress in deploying Windows 7 in their production environments.
- wholesale migration is becoming less of a concern in many organizations, where migration can hinge on retirement or replacement of older desktops (which generally have XP installed, where replacements or new purchases generally have Windows 7 pre-installed).
- it’s increasingly clear that XP won’t have entirely disappeared by the time Windows 8 ships in Q4 2012, which raises the same prospect (older XP and/or Windows 7 PCs on their way out, replaced by newer machines with Windows 8 pre-installed on their way in).
The notion of some kind of massive switch-over, or wholesale “the world now runs Windows X” approach to migration and deployment appears to be fading from the scene. Tight IT budgets, lengthening desktop hardware lifecycles, and the realities of continual purchase of new desktops with new OSes appear to be blurring the lines somewhat. It’s also very much to the good that virtual machines can be made to work on newer OSes with ever-increasing ease and automation, so that runtime access to legacy systems and software remains feasible even as the underlying host architecture continues to change beneath the VM layer.
I’m starting to think that a “we were an XP shop, now we’re a Windows 7 shop” mentality is fading from the scene, too. It’s starting to look like enterprises will use all the tools at their disposal, including a mix of old and new OSes and hardware, along with increasingly sophisticated software tools to help them manage heterogeneous desktop environments, while doing their best to deliver a consistent and positive user experience across all supported environments. In my next blog, I’ll discuss how the Prowess SmartDeploy toolset makes that possible and affordable, as a case in point.
When PCs reach their end-of-life point within many organizations, the question then arises about what to do with them to achieve their responsible disposal or redisposition. In developing a lifecycle course for HP a few years back, based on HP’s in-house lifecycle expert Bruce Michelson’s excellent book, Closed Loop: Lifecycle Planning (A Complete Guide to Managing Your PC Fleet) (Addison-Wesley, 2007, ISBN-13: 9780321477149, List Price: $44.99), I had cause to ponder the many and various ways of dealing with obsolete or end-of-lifecycle computing gear.
Of course, vendors such as HP, Dell, IBM, and others do offer “take-back” programs to permit companies and organizations to dispose of used computing gear safely. But after its useful life in business is over, older PCs can still enjoy a useful second life in other worlds. I’m not necessarily in favor of outright disposal of such units, no matter how environmentally correct such disposal might be.
To this day, one of my favorite recommended methods for safe disposal of computing gear that adds jobs and income to communities where such equipment is received is through Goodwill Industries International. With a strong presence in North America, and an increasing presence in South America and Asia, Goodwill offers environmentally sound e-waste disposal around the world these days. But they scavenge donated equipment first and foremost for salvage and refurbishing, to gain extra life, money, and work for their employees out of handling these materials. Over the past 10 years, I’ve probably donated over $20,000 in in-kind gifts of computers, monitors, keyboards, networking cards and components, plus miscellaneous computer parts and components galore to Goodwill.
Recently, I heard about a group based in Austin, TX, called The Helios Project. It’s run by Ken Starks, who works out of donated space in Taylor, Texas (about a 40-minute drive away from Austin). This group collects older computers and related parts for refurbishing or what you might call “reconstruction” so they can give working PCs to disadvantaged youths who might otherwise not have access to personal computing power. It’s a great cause and one well worth supporting, and they’re going to be getting my used gear going forward, primarily because they not only see to its safe and productive re-use, but also because the group voluntarily wipes gifted hard disks to DoD erasure standards to protect donors from potential illicit data mining and reuse. Ken and his directors (see “The Helios Project Directors” for some capsule summaries of the movers and shakers there) are also passionately committed to Linux and other Open Source software, and equip all of their outbound PCs with legally licensed operating systems and software that the new owners can maintain without having to incur re-licensing or annual maintenance fees.
I’d encourage you to look for similar kinds of organizations in your communities as potential recipients for used or end-of-lifecycle computing gear. These outfits will work with you to protect your data and information assets, but can also give that gear added life outside the business world. It’s nice to make a difference, and do something good for the community, in addition to practicing safe and secure disposition of no-longer-needed computers and equipment. Please, look around your neighborhood, and see if you can find an outreach organization to support. If not, you can still always turn to Goodwill, and generate some jobs and income in your community through your gifts in kind.
With the holidays approaching, The Helios Project is humping like mad to get a raft of new computers ready to show up under Christmas trees all around Central Texas. I’m driving out to Taylor myself next week to give them a barely used “One Laptop Per Child” machine I purchased from Negroponte’s organization a few years back, plus an Asus netbook PC, along with a collection of surplus memory, disk drives, and other spare parts they can use to bring computers back alive for re-use. Those interested in making financial donations to this organization should send checks c/o Ken Starks, 308A High Estates Drive, Round Rock, TX, 78664. But those checks should be made out to “Software in the Public Interest” (SIPI) with a memo notation that reads “Helios Project” (SIPI is a legitimate 501(c) organization that handles the donations for The Helios Project, and save them the expense of registering with the state to process donations and write IRS-accepted receipts for donations to a nonprofit charity).
Remember the recent hoopla this summer about fraudulent master-level (intermediate authority) digital certificates showing up in the wild? Well, Microsoft quietly released another out-of-band security update last Friday (11/11/2011) under the heading of KB2641690, with an accompanying Security Advisory. Apparently, Microsoft has also revoked its trust in the Digicert Malaysia Certificate Authority (doing business as DigiCert Sdn. Bhd.) for violation of the Microsoft Root Program requirements (see this Softpedia report for more information: “Microsoft Revokes Trust in Digitcert Malaysia Certificate Authority“).
The Softpedia story nicely explains why Microsoft took this action, and issued an emergency security update to match:
“Microsoft was notified by Entrust, Inc, a certificate authority in the Microsoft Root program, that a Malaysian subordinate CA, DigiCert Sdn. Bhd issued 22 certificates with weak 512 bit keys,” revealed Jerry Bryant, Group manager, Response Communications, Trustworthy Computing.
“Additionally, this subordinate CA has issued certificates without the appropriate usage extensions or revocation information.”
Microsoft stressed that unlike the DigiNotar scenario from a few months back, this time around attackers did not get the chance to exploit the weak and deficient secure sockets layer certificates issued by Digicert Malaysia.
This is best understood as a pre-emptive measure designed to forestall possible security compromises or potential attack vectors BEFORE they occur. Nevertheless, it also dictates that this security update be fast-tracked into production for the selfsame reasons. Another one for your hurry-up schedule!
In August, I agreed to help out a good friend–namely Chris Minnick of Minnick Web Services–by tech editing his forthcoming book WebKit For Dummies. Little did I know what profound effects this decision would have on my personal and professional life!
Webkit is a way-cool open source technology that calls itself a Web browswer engine, but is really much, much more. It’s also the same engine that runs under the hood in Mac OS X underneath Safari, Dashboard, Mail, and lots of other applications that enable access to Internet services(especially those based on the HTTP/HTTPS protocols).
In editing the book, I quickly realized I would have to acquire a Macintosh PC because that’s what Chris used to generate most of the screen shots for the software referenced in the book. This was followed by the need for an iPhone, which represented the mobile platform that Webkit so frequently targets–namely iOS 5. In turn, this led to an iPad so I could see what was up with that “insanely great” tablet, and then an iPod Touch, so my 7-year-old son would give me my iPhone 4S back.
Along the way, I realized several things I’d known in theory but not in practice. First and foremost, it’s both interesting and frustrating to wander into a world where Windows machines are tolerated and encouraged, but where they play a distinctly second-class role. Second and perhaps more stimulating is all the learning I’ve been forced to do to understand how the Maciverse (or is that Appleverse) works, and how I can do what comes quickly and easily to me in the Windows environment on the other side of this street.
Some of this stuff comes naturally or simply, but some of it is a real struggle. There haven’t been too many cases of “you can’t get there from here” so far, but I have found plenty of reasons to take the long way around in figuring out how to move music, video, and other stuff from PC to Apple platforms. I’ve also learned of the nearly irresisitible allure of iTunes for the younger generation, which is whacking off hunks of our monthly nut in little but insatiable $0.99 or $1.29 bites.
It’s really great to get into something that’s so well engineering and so attractive looking. I’ve yet to encounter any obvious bugs, either, and so far have had to recover from only one mysterious hardware glitch across all four of my Apple platforms (after shutting down my MacBook Air at a client site last Friday, I couldn’t get my screen to illuminate with proper brightness after a restart at home; a second restart fixed the problem instantly, however).
So here I go again, climbing a massive learning curve. I must say this one is proving to be quite a bit of fun. Now, if only I had more time to really learn EVERYTHING in depth, so that I could ascend to power user status in record time. But that’s not the way the game works, so I’ll just have to keep ploughing away until I can develop some perspective and useful experience. The funny thing is, my first computer — purchased way back in 1984 at the UT Austin Apple Store — was a 512K Fat Mac, and I was a total Mac bigot until 1994 when I switched over entirely to Windows. Now, I’m trying to straddle that gap again, and realizing how much I’ve forgotten but even more how very much things have changed. That’s life!
As is most of the rest of the Windows-aware world, I’ve been following the various posts on the Building Windows 8 blog with great interest and regular attention. In fact, checking in on this blog has become part of my regular “keeping up with Windows” routine, and routinely serves as fodder for this blog.
A particularly interesting post popped up this past Tuesday (11/8/2011) entitled “Building a power-smart general-purpose Windows” from Pat Stemen, a Principal Program Manager on Microsoft’s Windows 8 OS Kernel development team. It not only details the design objectives for power consumption (less power, more efficiency, longer battery life) that inform Windows 8’s ongoing design, it also describes the kinds of testing and measurement Microsoft performs to keep those objectives on-target.
In that vein, I found Stemen’s recitation of how each Windows 8 build’s power consumption profile is measured particularly interesting, as was his explanation of what happens when occasional software changes introduce spikes in that consumption (ultimately such changes get tracked down and fixed to keep power consumption under control). It also sheds some interesting light on the powercfg.exe utility, and its energy parameter, already available in Windows 7 (as well as Windows 8).
This utility produces the output file identified near the end of the command’s on-screen output as captured above, and has lots of interesting things to say about how power is being managed (or not). The resulting HTML page includes a plethora of information about which drivers and power settings defeat or turn off power management functions (sleep, hibernation, suspension, and so forth). I also discovered some very interesting timer settings emerging from some surprising programs (TechSmith’s SnagIt and Google Talk, of all things), as well as pretty detailed list of which runtime processes were making “…significant processor utilization” to quote from those report headings.
This is an interesting blog post and is well worth reading. If you’ve never played with powercfg.exe before, either, it’s probably worth a try, too. Please launch cmd.exe using the right-click “run as administrator” option, though: otherwise, the program will refuse to run.
OK, so I finally broke down a couple of weeks ago, and jumped onto the smartphone bandwagon. On October 26, my Verizon iPhone 4S showed up at the door, two days earlier than the promised delivery date. No sooner had this techno-toy registered on my household than my 7-year-old son Gregory expropriated it for his own uses–which in his case means playing games.
Not necessarily wanting to surrender this communication tool to the savage mercies of the younger generation, I started casting about for some kind of techno-toy for him to use so that I could regain full-time custody of my cellphone cum computing platform. That’s when I discovered that the latest iPod Touch models (or recent versions that can handle the iOS 5 upgrade) can do everything the iPhone does except for making and taking phone calls, or using 3G WLAN wireless to operate untethered away from Wi-Fi networks.
With a little judicious shopping around, I was able to pick up a used iPod Touch 32 GB model with iOS 5 installed for about two hundred bucks. Not only did this allow me to put a handheld device into Gregory’s hands that did what he wanted it to do, it let me regain control over my 64 GB iPhone 4S, for which the invoice from Verizon says the list price is a whopping $849! Even though I am paying for breakage and replacement insurance on the device ($8.18 a month seems a small price to pay for such a small and costly handheld), I am much more comfortable having put something less valuable into a young boy’s hands. I came to this decision when the first thing he did was to grab the iPhone from me upon his arrival home from school the day it appeared at our front door, and the next thing he did after that was drop it on the tile floor in the kitchen–luckily for all of us, onto a small kitchen rug next to the island between the range and the sink.
But as I’ve been involved in acquiring, setting up, and occasionally using his iPod Touch to surf the Web and run various apps, I’ve been impressed by its ability to do everything the iPhone does except to handle phone stuff. And I’m told that as long as the device stays in Wi-Fi range, the Skype app makes it possible to use it for VoIP calls, too. For $200 (or even the $300 list price of the device I purchased used) this is some astounding and valuable capability for a fairly small price, with no monthly fees or jailbreak consequences to ponder.
It’s a real eye-opener for Gregory, too. He’s already announced he no longer needs his Nintendo DSI, and greatly prefers the resolution and behavior of the iPod Touch. And for about the same amount of money, the iPod Touch offers a much smoother network integration than the DSI (this iPod works happily with standard WPA security on 802.11g and 802.11n at 2.4 GHz, while the DSI works only with WEP, and is nowhere near as snappy doing Internet stuff of any kind). And he hasn’t even begun to tap into the iPod’s stellar music playback and management functions, nor its video storage and playback capability, either.
I’ve long been a fan of Nitro’s excellent PDF products, which are invariably faster, cheaper, and more secure than Adobe’s PDF offerings. On Wednesday, they announced their latest Nitro PDF software (mine is version 188.8.131.52) which provides some way-cool new enterprise oriented features to complement its core PDF creation and management capabilities, which are designed to let users “…create, edit, secure, sign, and share PDF files … intuitively…” in the words of that self-same announcement.
I spoke to Nick Chandler (Nitro PR & Community Manager) and Chris Dahl (Nitro CTO) on Tuesday from Australia in advance of the release, having also been granted a sneak preview of the software in advance of its official release the following day. What intrigued me about this latest version of Nitro PDF Professional, which offers all of the most important features of Acrobat at no more than 50 percent of the price ($120 list for Nitro Pro versus $242 for the deepest discount I can find on a Standard and complete version of Adobe Acrobat X), are the enterprise deployment features that have been added to the product.
Nitro PDF Professional’s enterprise deployment capability includes support for its distribution and management through SharePoint, Documentum, and Autonomy Worksite, all widely used content management and control systems. While it’s always been possible to build and distribute Nitro PDF Pro through standard package creation and distribution toolsets (like Microsoft’s SMS or Systems Center Configuration Manager), this adds considerable clout and reach to methods for deploying Nitro Pro. In particular, given the many hosted Web and services solutions that now ride on SharePoint, it brings heavy-duty distribution technology and controls to smaller organizations and companies in the SMB space. That’s why Nitro PDF 7 works for companies as large as Continental Tire (with 130,000 employees worldwide), as well as Boeing and Toyota, but also makes a great fit for small-to-medium-sized businesses as well.
Other cool new features of Nitro PDF Pro 7 include the adoption of a ribbon style UI, with the ability to create custom stamps, and an optimized rendering engine (imported from the most recent release of the company’s flagship Nitro PDF Reader) that speeds both content parsing and its visual delivery on-screen. The program even includes a Protect tab, with built-in security and redaction features to control document access or block out sensitive info for public distribution.
Future efforts on the Nitro products will exploit emerging APIs for Windows 8, just as current versions exploit important APIs for Vista and Windows 7, such as Explorer’s Preview handler and thumbnail integration. Chris Dahl put their future plans this way: “Each iteration of the software is an incremental improvement over previous versions that leverages general Windows UI guidelines. While we keep out interface consistent, we always try to enhance functionality or improve user interface behavior, as we did with the adoption of the Ribbon metaphor in this latest Nitro PDF Pro version.”
For my money, NItro PDF Pro is definitely worth checking out, especially if you don’t need the more sophisticated PDF bells and whistles that make Adobe Acrobat a more expensive proposition.
[Note: Nitro PDF Professional volume licensing starts at 11 or more licenses, and Nitro staff are quick to observe that volume licenses obtain “significant” discounts vis-a-vis their published list price. One of their goals is to counter the tendency to provide a small number of staffers with copies of Acrobat, who then must handle “PDF stuff” for everybody else by making PDF tools affordable enough to distribute far and wide inside modern, productive organizations. A 20% discount to $100 is currently available to early buyers of this program as well.]
On October 19, I wrote a post here entitled “Win 7, XP Reach Crossover Point.” In reading over Ed Bott’s recent blog on the same subject entitled “Windows 7 continues to roll as XP fades away” this morning, I was reminded of Mark Twain’s immortal epigram on the persuasive power of numbers:
“Figures often beguile me, particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: ‘There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
Bott’s post essentially makes the point that the StatCounter numbers used in the report that drove my earlier blog post don’t necessarily reflect the actual truth on the ground. He likes the reports from a different Web analytics firm instead, namely those from Net Market Share. They show that the crossover point isn’t quite yet at hand, but that it should hit sometime early in 2012 instead. It’s an interesting counterpoint to my own blog post, and it shows how fragile the conclusions we might base on any particular set of statistics can be.
In the end, the actual date doesn’t really matter. XP really is starting to shuffle off the scene, and Windows 7 remains in ascendancy, probably to be eclipsed only by Windows 8–assuming the marketplace takes it up with any enthusiasm–in another 2 to 3 years. But as with all things speculative or that forecast an uncertain future, only time will tell!