I just stumbled upon a ComputerWorld story by Brian Nadel entitled “Inspector Gadgets: 13 Windows 7 gadgets for monitoring your PC” that’s chock full of interesting items that systems administrators and power users will enjoy checking out (and possibly using on their desktops). I myself am a big fan of basic system monitoring gadgets on my Win7 machines, and regularly run the following on those PCs (listed in their typical order of appearance):
- All CPU Meter (V 3.7) from Addgadget.com
- The built-in Clock gadget that ships by default with Windows 7
- Network Meter (V 6.5) also from Addgadget.com
- Windows Vista Shutdown Control (GadgetsForVista.net)
Nadel’s story offers a larger and quite interesting array of gadgets, about half of which are depicted here:
Nadel’s Gadget Gallery from ComputerWorld story
I’m pleased to report that a couple of my gadgets made the cut, but even more pleased to discover some additional useful elements in Nadel’s list. Please take a look at his article to get information on the following Windows 7 Gadgets:
- System Control A1
- Core Temp Gadget
- Top Process Monitor
- Network Meter
- DC Wireless Network Monitor
- O&O DiskStat
- Drive Meter
- GPU Monitor
- Windows Firewall Profile
- 9-Skin Battery Meter
- Intel Core Series monitor
Be sure to check them out: there’s some good stuff in here!
A recently published Gartner study (cited in stories at computing.co.uk and FierceCIO TechWatch) apparently predicts numerous interesting Windows 7 developments and phenomena. First and foremost, Gartner predicts that somewhere around 42 percent of all PCs world-wide will run Windows 7 by the end of 2011, giving it first-place ranking and finally ahead of Windows XP on the desktop. Second, and perhaps more interesting is a quotation from Gartner Research Director Annette Jump that reads “Many enterprises have been planning their deployment of Windows 7 for the last 12 to 18 months, and are now moving rapidly to Windows 7.”
Headline from Gartner Press Release on Win7 Report
Reasons cited for the forecasted jump include increasing IT budgets in 2011 and 2011, along with a substantial number of Windows 7 migrations initiated in the final quarter of last year (2010). While this may seem like happy news for Microsoft, long term-predictions are less rosy for Windows. According to the already-cited TechWatch article “…it is interesting to note Gartner’s opinion that Windows 7 is likely to be the last operating system from Microsoft deployed in such numbers. Gartner attributes this prediction to the rise of ‘OS-agnostic’ applications for enterprises, meaning software not tied to a particular platform.” That story goes on to say that her research indicates that such applications are likely to comprise half of all apps in use by 2012.
I do think this means that Windows 7 has finally reached or is nearing the tipping point for enterprise adoption, but I’m not so sure that Gartner is right about a decline in Windows use in the enterprise. All that hardware (desktops and notebooks, especially) has to run some kind of OS, and there’s really no viable alternative that has all of the imaging, installation, deployment, configuration, and management tools by which enterprise IT departments live and die out there right now. I believe that Windows will remain unchallenged as the enterprise client OS until such time as a fully-fledged alternative makes itself available. Right now, this is just a mythical beast and until that critter becomes real, Windows stays in the catbird seat.
One of the best things about recent versions of Windows has been increasing transparency in the MIcrosoft development process, perforce through increased access to executives and developers alike. As Windows 7 ground its way to completion I enjoyed the various blogs it gestated, still visible on MSDN as the “Engineering Windows 7” blog. Today, Microsoft’s “Windows President” Steven Sinofsky launched a new blog for Windows 8, called “Building Windows 8” with an introductory post entitled, appropriately enough “Welcome to Building Windows 8.”
Kick-off post launches the Building Windows 8 blog
Here are some interesting sound bites from this posting:
- …today we want to begin an open dialog with those of you who will be trying out the pre-release over the coming months.
- We intend to post regularly throughout the development of Windows 8, and to focus on the engineering of the product.
- Windows 8 reimagines Windows.
- The appearance of touch-screen mobile phones with the rich capabilities they bring, have together changed the way we all view computing. Most of all, computing is much more focused on applications and on people than on the operating system itself or the data.
- …in the next few weeks we will just start talking specifics of features, since there is no obvious place to start given the varying perspectives. [networking, storage, performance and fundamentals, developers, IT pros, and gamers all mentioned in preceding sentences]
- …we’ll work hard to have constructive conversations with you, share the data, and, when the situation calls for it, make thoughtful changes.
It sounds like a lot of interesting stuff will be breaking in this blog, so you’ll probably want to follow it along with me. You can get notifications by following @BuildWindows8 on Twitter, just like I will!
After the sizable set of updates (12-16 on my various Windows machines) last Patch Tuesday that I documented in Wednesday’s blog “First Patch Tuesday August 9…” I found myself pondering once again the incredible value that automated deployment tools bring to IT environments of any size. Not only can these tools — which include the likes of LANDesk, Altiris, CA Unicenter, and Microsoft Configuration Manager to name just a few — push updates out to desktops on a tightly scheduled basis, they can also roll back machines to a pristine, pre-update state, should anything prevent their successful application (and also perform rollbacks after the fact, if hitherto undiscovered difficulties should rear their ugly heads later on down the road).
In addition these toolsets can also apply service packs, home-grown or third party applications updates or upgrades, tally up hardware and software inventories and attributes, and manage licenses. Some of them extend these same functions to centrally managed mobile devices such as smartphones or PDAs as well.
It stands to reason that because enterprises need time to deploy patches in a test lab, and make sure they break nothing in the standard environment (or interfere with home-grown systems and applications), they also need capable tools to speed deployment of such patches and fixes as survive the testing and vetting processes. And because so many organizations work within tightly scheduled update windows that typically occur anywhere from once a month to once per quarter, they need smart tools that can work within those windows and provide intelligent rollback and recovery methods should anything go wrong before the window closes.
As we all know, it’s imperative for employees and systems to get back to work as soon as the update window closes and operations resume. Better to fail gracefully and fix problems during the next window, than to have anything prevent normal business operations from resuming on schedule in any kind of enterprise.
A quick look at Microsoft’s Security Bulletin Summary for August 2011 shows 13 security bulletins for this morning. My own machines (both 32- and 64-bit Windows versions) showed a nearly uniform list of 14 security bulletins (including some non-bulletin elements like the monthly refresh of the Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool and a keyboard driver for my Microsoft keyboards).
Microsoft Windows Security Bulletin Summary August 2011
Here’s a list of the items in the executive summaries section of the August 2011 bulletin (with links to the relevant security bulletin for each item):
- MS11-057 [CR] Cumulative Security Update for Internet Explorer (2559049)
- MS11-058 [CR] Vulnerabilities in DNS Server Could Allow Remote Code Execution (2562485)
- MS11-059 [IR] Vulnerability in Data Access Components Could Allow Remote Code Execution (2560656)
- MS11-060 [IM] Vulnerabilities in Microsoft Visio Could Allow Remote Code Execution (2560978
- MS11-061 [IM] Vulnerability in Remote Desktop Web Access Could Allow Elevation of Privilege (2546250)
- MS11-062 [IR] Vulnerability in Remote Access Service NDISTAPI Driver Could Allow Elevation of Privilege (2566454)
- MS11-063 [IR] Vulnerability in Windows Client/Server Run-time Subsystem Could Allow Elevation of Privilege (2567680)
- MS11-064 [IR] Vulnerabilities in TCP/IP Stack Could Allow Denial of Service (2563894)
- MS11-065 [IR] Vulnerability in Remote Desktop Protocol Could Allow Denial of Service (2570222)
- MS11-066 [IM] Vulnerability in Microsoft Chart Control Could Allow Information Disclosure (2567943)
- MS11-067 [IM] Vulnerability in Microsoft Report Viewer Could Allow Information Disclosure (2578230)
- MS11-068 [MR] Vulnerability in Windows Kernel Could Allow Denial of Service (2556532)
- MS11-069 [MM] Vulnerability in .NET Framework Could Allow Information Disclosure (2567951)
Key to [xx] bracketed ratings information
First char describes severity ranking: C = Critical, I = Important, M = Moderate
Second char labels restart: R = requires restart, M = may require restart
MS11-058 deals with DNS servers and is highly unlikely to show up on Windows client computers, but the rest of this sometimes comes in separate 32- or 64-bit versions, all of which are likely to show up on Windows desktop machines. There will be some serious and meaningful work for system admins to get these updates into testing to determine if and when deployment will be necessary (as will probably prove to be the case for all critical and important updates in the list, where they touch functions that are present on specific Windows clients or reference builds).
For those who use automatic update, please note that there are two .NET Framework items that remain unselected for install by Microsoft’s choice: KB2468871 and KB2533623. These will need to selected for manual installation if they show up on client machines (as they will for most ordinary Windows users).
If you mess with screen captures and digital images as much as I do, you’re always having to resize images. In particular, I’ve got to do that for my PearsonITCertification.com blog, where the software won’t allow images more than 500 pixels wide to be uploaded. It’s kind of a pain to have to fire off Corel PaintShop Pro or Adobe PhotoShop just to resize an image. That’s why I was glad to see Paul Thurrot’s latest “Windows 7 App Pick” put a new version of this utility, called Image Resizer 3, in the spotlight.
It’s a trivial download (540K for 32-bit, 600K for 64-bit Windows 7 OS), that comes in
.msi (Microsoft Installer) format and takes less than one minute to install. After you install the PowerToy, when you right-click any image format, “Resize image” shows up as an option for that file. The following screen shot shows Explorer with an image file selected, and the Resize image window that pops up in response.
Here’s the Resize Image control window inside the Explorer parent frame
This little PowerToy is now part of my standard Windows desktop configuration. Perhaps it should be part of your standard image, too.
Yesterday, it was my great pleasure to have lunch with David Bohl and Heath Johnson, both of whom work in Dell’s eSupport operation. Amidst a bunch of other interesting topics on how Dell can get its customers to help themselves deal with PC problems, I learned that the company operates what David called “the Windows 7 portal” and which Dell labels as “Online Windows 7 Support” on its gargantuan Website.
Dell’s Windows 7 Support Pages
I’ve just spent the last half-hour or so trolling around this site. As you’d expect, Dell leverages content available at Microsoft (Win7 is their OS, after all), including Help and How-To’s, and the MS Answers forum. but they also have developed some of their own content to help their users along as well. It appears under the heading of “Learn to Use Windows 7” and includes the following items:
|Perform Microsoft Windows Maintenance|
|Copy (burn) files to a CD or DVD|
|Use Windows Media Player|
|Reset Windows 7 passwords|
|Create new user accounts|
|Change Display Settings (Resolution)|
|Transfer files from one system to another|
|Restore a Windows 7-based computer to a previous OS|
|XP Compatibility Mode and Virtual PC|
|Windows 7 “How To” Videos|
There’s also a pretty comprehensive area entitled “Fix an Issue with Windows 7” that includes 5-7 entries for items under the subheads of Hardware, Windows Troubleshooting, Errors and Lockups, and Software. This is a useful collection of tips and pointers, and it’s all driven by user problem reports or requests for information. It should also be interesting to keep tabs on this site and see how it grows and evolves over time.
I started noodling on sales numbers for Win7 when I saw this July 11 story from PCMag.com “With 400M Windows 7 Licenses Sold, Microsoft Pushes for Demise of XP.” These numbers came from a Microsoft announcement that same day, and started me to thinking about how many months of sales Windows 7 has behind it now. Let’s see: October 2011 means three months in 2009, 12 months from 2010, and 7 months so far (as of these numbers) for 2011, for total of 22 months altogether. 400/22 = 18.18…, so the company continues to hold an impressive run rate for Windows 7 sales. That means they should rack up another 100 million units every five-and-a-half months — at least, until Windows 8 makes the scene next year and a new version comes along to start cannibalizing sales from the old one.
Windows 7 has had a pretty good run. But XP users still outnumber Win7 users by a nearly two-to-one ratio (49.69% vs. 27.92% as of the latest NetMarketShare numbers this morning on 8/3/2011). I have no trouble understanding why MS feels it necessary to whine, beg, plead, and cajole corporate users to jettison XP and upgrade to Windows 7. But with Windows 8 rumored to make an April, 2012, debut, you might say that Windows 7 is caught between the rock that is Windows XP and the Windows 8 hard place, as far as corporate IT buyers and planners are concerned.
Watching how Windows 7 sales fare after Windows 8 hits the market should be very interesting. If history is any guide, end-users will jump on the new OS immediately while enterprise and business users will wait anywhere from 1-3 years to jump onto that train. Amusingly, I think this means big corporate Win7 adoptions will finally hit the tipping point, at just about the same time that Win8 hits the streets. I’m not sure if the reduction of end-user sales will simply offset or exceed the onslaught of business Win7 adoptions and deployments. But it should be easy to tell, by whether the monthly Win7 run rate stays put, dips, or jumps!
In this blog posting, I’m going to talk about the results of a recent study at Tom’s Hardware entitled “Investigation: Is Your SSD More Reliable Than a Hard Drive?” which appeared on July 29, 2011. There have been persistent reports or rumors online over the past couple of years that SSDs can be flaky, and some people apparently believe them to be less reliable than conventional spinning hard disks. My own experience has been entirely positive and to the contrary: I currently own and use 3 SSDs on various systems, and aside from issues related to upgrading firmware on one of those drives, I have never, ever had any kind of problem with the Samsung and Intel built drives in those products from Super Talent, Intel, and OCZ. [Disclaimer/disclosure: I have both translated articles from German into English for Tom’s and contributed regularly to Tomshardware.com and Tomsguide.com since 2002, but I had no involvement with this story at all.]
Tom’s SSD study headline
Author Andrew Ku digs into his subject in great detail and with considerable gusto, so I strongly urge interested readers to dive in and work through all 9 pages of the original story. The focus, appropriately enough for readers of this blog, was on Intel SSD failure rates in scenarios that spanned use in the datacenter all the way to desktop and laptop PCs. Ku produces some very interesting findings (see page 9 of his story for the full list) that include the following elements:
Annualized failure rates exceed manufacturer’s claims.
Drives are less like to fail in the first year of use than often reported; in fact, failure rates increase steadily with age.
Failure rates for consumer and enterprise drives are nearly identical.
Data redundancy with SSDs doesn’t have to be expensive: use continuous backup to conventional disks to ensure availability, and forget RAID.
SSDs fail at only slightly lower rates than conventional HDs
The bottom line is that rumors that SSDs are less reliable than HDs are not born out by the study data, but if SSDs are more reliable than HDs, the difference is too slight to justify their considerable cost differential in and of itself. Rather, speed, power consumption, and compact form factor seem more likely to count for at least some applications where SSDs are taking over from HDs, particularly for system/boot drives, and in notebook PCs.
Swiss-based Kaseya introduces bandwidth-sensitive multicast image deployment tool
Swiss-based automated IT systems management software provider Kaseya announced its Kaseya Imaging and Deployment Module on July 26. This tool aims at enterprise-class IT organizations and service providers to enable them to perform wholesale, large-scale operating system upgrades, with “…the ability to remote wipe and return a large number of computers to a known state” should something go wrong with an upgrade procedure. This is just the kind of capability that IT organizations (or outside service companies that provide IT services to enterprises, institutions, and large scale public entities) need to fit tightly scheduled time windows for updates and changes, with precisely the kind of guarantee that systems will be operating when that window closes, whether or not an upgrade succeeds or fails.
What’s most interesting to me about the announcement is that Kaseya is using multicast delivery to minimize network bandwidth consumption as large distributed deployments get staged across multi-site (and even multi-continent) WAN infrastructures. Kaseya is also sensitive to the need to restore certain kinds of machines to pristine states for regular abuse and re-use as, for example, is common in training centers, at educational institutions with computer labs, and other environments where starting over afresh on test or teaching PCs is standard practice. Kaseya permits complete automation of this process, including a wipe of any targeted machines, followed by installation of a selected image for the next work cycle on those PCs. Using Intel vPro or Wake on LAN technology, machines can reboot during off-cycle hours (usually in the middle of the night, for machines that will actually be used hands-on, but any time for VMs that may be used during any two of each day’s typical 8-hour work shifts), and automatically be refitted with a clean pristine image for the next users who will put those machines to work.
After reimaging completes, the Kaseya Desktop Migration module can automatically refresh PCs to a specific user state, ready for the next work cycle. It can also be automatically audited, then powered down to cut back on energy consumption until the next crew of users appears to put those machines to work. Kaseya modules are licensed as add-ons to the base Kaseya automation system on a per-seat basis, either on an annual subscription basis, or in the form of a perpetual license. Contact Kaseya for more information.