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.
OK, so if you’re running Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) installed then you must figure out what to do with an update that Microsoft pushed yesterday in its increasingly typical “2nd Patch Tuesday” release. This update is labeled KB2310138 though it is also entitled “Definition Update for Microsoft Windows Security Essentials” (which is something of a misnomer, because this actually refers to a KB article entitled “Description of Microsoft Security Essentials and of the definition file updates for beta version 2.0.0375.0” which really has nothing to do with this current update at all).
But what I experienced today on those machines where I do permit auto-updates to proceed (how else can we learn about these things? or find such gotchas?) is that applying this update causes Windows 7 to reset all known network types from “Home” or “Work” to “Public.” Of course, this immediately broke RDP access for me on my LAN since by default RDP is allowed on trusted networks, but blocked on untrusted one (which defines networks labeled “Public” by deliberate design).
Public network reassignment plays hob with all kinds of security stuff
I’ve also been followed online chatter about lots of other problems related to this update for those running Microsoft Security Essentials. Turns out that if you’ve ever installed another security package before using MSE, your machine may hang on the reboot after installing the patch, for which the only fix is to roll back to the LKGC or a restore point before installing the patch, then running a clean-up tool to remove all vestiges of the preceding security package. and trying again. Others have posted to report of issues related to MS Office network links failing (which I imagine is related to network security defaults). Seems like other bugbears are going to come pouring out of the woodwork as well, given the many other Windows widgets and behaviors that depend on secure network access.
Two observations about Windows Update KB2310138 dated 7/26/2011:
Don’t even think about rolling this out to your client base until the issues get addressed and fixed! (It takes no crystal ball to foresee some kind of follow-up, repair tool, or clean up effort appearing as soon as MS can whip something out.)
If you do work with machines for which auto-update is turned on (typical at home and in SOHO situations) be prepared for some clean-up work. For me, properly restoring the network type seemed to fix all of my problems — but then, I have messed with security software long enough to know that you never install a new such package on a Windows PC without first thoroughly cleaning up a prior such package beforehand.
Caveat emptor (or “downloador” if you prefer), baby! And for those who are compelled to ask “Who uses MSE anyway?” the answer may be surprising, given that it’s free for up to 10 PCs in home and SOHO situations, and available for generous corporate license terms. I use it in almost all of my VMs these days, because it is free and updates flow through the same mechanisms as OS updates. It’s adequate and too convenient not to use in such situations. I suspect there may be pockets of it in test and development labs, even in situations where more general licensing may not be in effect for corporate use.
About two years ago, my wife needed a new PC and I wanted to check out a mini-ITX build, so her needs and my insatiable desire to tinker coincided nicely. Out of that effort came a very nice small system for her, built around an MSI Industrial 945GME1 Core 2 Duo Mobile Mini-ITX motherboard and a Morex T-3500 150W Mini-ITX case (see photo below). I equipped it with an Intel Core Duo T2300 mobile CPU, 4 GB of RAM, and a speedy 250 GB 7200 RPM Seagate hybrid drive. It’s no screamer, but for somebody whose sole use of a PC is reading e-mail and surfing the Web, it works pretty darn well.
A sweet little mini-ITX box, except for one little thing…
There has been one little nagging problem I’ve had since installing Windows 7 SP1 on this machine. Whereas it had been waking from sleep on a mouse event beforehand just fine, since then it has fallen into what I jokingly call “the sleep of death” whenever it sits idle long enough (240 minutes, in fact, based on timers I’d set for disk spindown and screen power-down) to turn itself off.
It wasn’t until I systematically went into the Power Options item in control panel and set ALL of the timeout-based Advanced settings available for the current power plan to “Never” (hard disk and display) that the unit no longer required a hard reset to come back to life after going into a reduced power state. There’s something about the MSI MS-7265 industrial motherboard that doesn’t like it when idle power-down occurs. I’m OK with leaving a 2.5″ 7200 RPM drive spinning all the time, and instead of powering the display down, I simply run the “Blank” screensaver which turns off the screen anyway.
According to my Seasonic Power Angel, the unit draws only 35 Watts when the display turns off but the fans keep running and the drives keep spinning. Internal temps usually stay around 40 C° with the CPU cores in the 34-36 C° range. It’s like leaving a low power lamp on all the time, which I guess I’ll have to live with unless I can train “the Boss” to start shutting down at the end of her computing day. But at least the gosh-darned thing keeps running all the time now, and doesn’t need to be rebooted every time you leave it alone for a while.
I’ve known Mark Russinovich for over 10 years, thanks to some work I did for his company back in the early 2000s. I’ve known of Mark Russinovich for twice that long, thanks mostly to his fantastic work on a series of Windows Administrative tools. These days Mark still does much of the same things he’s been doing since way back when, but he now does them for Microsoft, and Microsoft continues to give his Sysinternals admnistrative utilities for Windows away for free. In fact Sysinternals has its own subdomain inside Technet: It’s called Windows Sysinternals and everybody who works on Windows computers should have it in his or her favorites list.
Finally a good book digs into the Sysinternals utilities
The Sysinternals Web pages used to the best place to look for information and guidance on using these tools, along with the occasional blog from Mr. Russinovich himself (and in fact, his latest blog is entitled Troubleshooting with the New Sysinternals Administrator’s Reference). That blog shares with this blog a primary subject — namely, the book depicted in the preceding screen cap. Entitled Windows Sysinternals Administrator’s Reference, by Mr. Russinovich and Aaron Margosis (Microsoft Press, July 20, 2011, ISBN-13: 978-0735656727, list price $49.99, $31.17 at Amazon) it not only presents and discusses all of the many tools that Sysinternals makes available to Windows admins, it distills some incredibly valuable wit and wisdom on how best to put these tools to work, straight from one of their key developers.
Nobody who works with Windows Servers should be without a copy, and anybody who works on Windows Desktops will find this book equally useful. It akes you through analyzing CPU behaviors, memory leaks, and helps demystify the many vexing and sometimes baffling problems to which Windows systems occasionally fall prey. You will also understand how to use the Sysinternals tools to look deeper into the Windows registry than you may have thought possible, and how to use memory dumps to troubleshoot not just BSODs and system hiccups, but also application or service issues as well.
At just over $31 at Amazon, the book is a steal. Even at the $45 full retail price it’s still worth every penny. If you work with Windows systems I have three words of advice: Buy. This. Book.
MS Learning Exam page for 98-349
OK, so I’m on tap with my fearless and feckless co-author and project manager, Kim Lindros, to write a short exam prep book on Windows Operating System Fundamentals (Exam 98-349). This item takes Windows 7 as its focus, and is part of Microsoft’s new Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) certification family. For those not already in the know, the MTA program (in Microsoft’s own words):
• is targeted primarily at students who attend high schools and two-year colleges.
• assumes some hands-on experience or training but does not assume on-the-job experience.
• provides an appropriate entry point to a future career in technology.
This is an interesting exam because it provides a basic but thorough introduction to desktop operating systems as see through the lens of Windows 7. Great coverage of configuration issues, items, and tools including msconfig.exe, the Control Panel and its many built-in (and add-on) elements. Even better coverage of install and upgrade maneuvers, especially the various paths to Windows 7 install with USB now finally an official sanctioned method, and how virtualized clients figure into (and onto) the desktop. OS maintenance also gets good coverage, too.
.With all this in mind, should IT professionals who don’t fit Microsoft’s target audience consider this exam? Nah, but there’s no harm in using its curriculum, objectives, and prep materials as a great set of learning materials for those in need of Windows 7 knowledge. It’s probably best viewed as a great intro for others in your organization, and power users, who want to dig into and learn Windows 7 basics to boost their skills on the job.
Those familiar with the expansion of WHS to “Windows Home Server” will probably be wondering why I’m writing a blog post on this particular product in an Enterprise Windows Desktop blog. Good question, but I’d also like to observe I’m a dedicated home theater PC aficianado as well as an enterprise desktop kind of a geek. And this is an inarguable case where those who might read this blog, but who also run Windows at home, simply must know about a current and ongoing promotional pricing deal available for an OEM version of WHS 2011 at both Newegg ($69.99) and Amazon ($57.11).
Windows Home Server 2011 logo
This is an OEM version for which you’ll need to assemble your own hardware, and it is a 64-bit version (which requires a 64-bit capable processor, but that’s not too much of a stretch these days). I’ve got an HP Media Smart server running their customized variant of an older WHS version (2010) that I’m going to try it out on, but just about any kind of SFF or Home Theater encased modern AMD or Intel rig should do the trick. I’d recommend using 4 GB of RAM (I’m not sure more than that will really do a whole lot of good, but you can use more if you like; I do know that you want at least 2 GB to get reasonable performance out of this kind of runtime environment).
The usual price for this software is $150, so $60-70 really is a heckova deal. It presents more or less the same interface as Windows 7 and behaves in much the same way, so if you know your way around the desktop OS you’ll be reasonably proficient at doing likewise with WHS 2011. And it really is a good deal, hyperbole notwithstanding. If you’ve got a substantial media collection to manage and stream around the house, and can also use a good local network backup option, WHS 2011 should be a good fit for your home network.
Huh? I’m drawing from the wit and wisdom of founding father Benjamin Franklin who once said “Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn at no other.” I’m pretty sure this means that fools have to learn things the hard way, and this weekend I got smacked in the face by that realization as I started working on a new laptop (a reconditioned Acer 5552 that I got for an unbelievable $350 last week).
Out of force of habit, I started applying Windows Update patches (I think I started out with 88 of them pending) before I stopped to reflect that I also wanted to upgrade the OS. It shipped with Windows 7 Home Premium, which doesn’t support RDP, and I like to remote into my laptops from my desktop when I’m working at home, because it’s a got a couple of huge screens and my favorite keyboard hooked up to it. So an upgrade is absolutely essential for me, and my MSDN Premium subscription makes that easy and affordable to do on my test machines.
I already knew that I shouldn’t apply Win7 SP1 to my machine until after I upgraded, but I didn’t stop to think that it makes more sense to upgrade first, and update second, rather than the way around. And in fact, when I tried the upgrade after doing all the patches, the upgrade failed. But when Acer shipped the machine something about the way the Windows image got blown onto its hard disk created a spurious drive entry in Windows Explorer, and they either elected to turn off Windows Restore or something about that dual C: drive entry caused it to fail. I had to monkey around with System Protection options to clean up that entry, and only then was I able to turn on System Restore so I could create Restore Points.
Fortunately for me, the first Restore Point I created (somewhere around the 44th update or so), went far enough back in Windows functionality to allow the OS Upgrade to work. So I got the unique pleasure of running the second half of the update stream twice, and then applying SP1, and another raft of updates again after the Service Pack installed correctly. Back in the day when I studied databases, we used to say “selection before projection” to minimize the amount of data generated when formulating cross products across multiple tables. This weekend, I was reminded that when it comes to Windows 7 “upgrade before you update” is the right way to proceed with new machines that come with lower-level OS versions installed that you wish to bump up in functionality and capability.
Yep! Over 200 years later, Mr. Franklin’s pithy observations can still goad IT professionals into thinking more (and more deeply) before they act, rather than back-pedaling and wasting lots of time by acting too hastily. And for those of us who do act too fast from time to time, his words can remind us of better ways to do our jobs in the future!