Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 2-in-1 is a more likely PC replacement than Apple’s iPad Pro, thanks to Windows 10 and its Continuum feature.
The tech industry continues to search for a device that offers close to the same portability as a smartphone along with the productivity of a PC. Laptops have done the job for years, but people want something better and more versatile. Continuum, which lets Windows 10 switch between PC and tablet interfaces depending on the use case, provides that flexibility. Every Windows 10 2-in-1 has this feature, but Microsoft is dominating the market, according to IDC.
Meanwhile, the iPad hasn’t quite fulfilled its early promise as a mobile device that can also be a laptop PC replacement. Apple increased its screen size and added a keyboard with the iPad Pro, making the device more suitable to replace a laptop, but questions remain.
“There is a lack of a cursor on iPad, and the keyboard feels more of an add-on than integral part of the device like it is with the Surface,” said Bob O’Donnell, president at TECHnalysis Research in Foster City, Calif.
The iPad Pro runs iOS, Apple’s mobile operating system, and does not have a Continuum-like feature. That makes it run similarly to a mobile device even when the keyboard is attached. As such, the Surface Pro 4 2-in-1 is more like a laptop that can be used as a tablet, whereas the opposite holds true for the iPad Pro — and that’s good news for Microsoft.
The tablet market in general will dip by 6.5% by 2021, while the 2-in-1 market will grow by 21.2%, according to IDC’s Personal Computing Device Forecast.
In terms of computers in the enterprise, it is no secret that Windows runs the show. Apple has the leading mobile operating system in the workforce, but since we’re talking about which is more likely to replace your work laptop, the edge goes to the device with the OS that business PCs typically use.
“People do use Surface more for work, and it gets more consideration as a 2-in-1,” O’Donnell said. “With the iPad, despite the keyboard, it’s not the kind of thing people are doing with it.”
Life on the PC front has suddenly become more competitive for Intel over the past four months or so. On December 7, Microsoft announced desktop support for ARM processors. On February 22, AMD announced its new line of Ryzen x86 processors. And just today, we learn that Microsoft will soon support ARM processors for Azure servers. Thus, AMD and ARM deliver 1-2 punch to Intel, and threaten its market dominance.
How Do AMD and ARM Deliver 1-2 Punch to Intel?
Some experts find the Ryzen CPU family particularly compelling. That’s because it offers “almost as good” levels of performance at lower prices. This is true for its top-of-the-line 8-core 16-thread Ryzen 7 1700 ($330 street) compared to the 4-core 8-thread Intel Core i7-7700K ($340 street). Don’t even think about the Intel 10-core 20-thread Core i7-6950X Extreme Edition unless paying over $1,500 is palatable. It’s been half-a-dozen years or more since AMD and Intel processors offered anything close to parity, and Intel’s gotten used to owning the market in the meantime. This should get interesting as benchmarks keep coming out, and the enthusiast market digests those results.
In some ways, the ARM news is more compelling. ARM owns the small form-factor market for tablets and many smartphones. Thus, this team-up may accomplish what Microsoft couldn’t do on its own — grab market share for hand-held devices. But Microsoft has really struggled with phones and small tablets, so a positive outcome is far from guaranteed.
Servers Are Where the REAL Action Is…
Today’s server-side combination specifically targets Azure servers, however. Thus, it tackles Intel in an area where the company generates a heap of profit. Because of the massive proliferation of cloud servers, and burgeoning uptake for Azure, there are real opportunities here. ARM processors have gained a good reputation as more power-efficient and more widely supported by OEMs than other chips. According to Bloomberg “Microsoft is planning to incorporate the ARM chips as it develops a new cloud server design” which it plans to discuss today at the Open Compute Project Summit in Santa Clara, CA. Just hearing that it’s on the Open Compute agenda already has me a LOT more interested. An open source architecture means it’s much more likely to be widely adopted and implemented (not to mention that Amazon and Open Stack/Rackspace are big supporters of the standard as well).
Is it time to start selling Intel short? The market is trading down today, and Intel is down 0.47% for the day as I write this. How will this shake out over the long term? Only time will tell!
I’ve been working a lot in the office lately on projects that require lots of printing. My trusty Samsung ML-2850 networked printer was acting up over the weekend, in fact. I noticed some banding or streaking of toner on output pages, and wondered how much toner was left in my current cartridge. But when I tried to find out, I realized that I hadn’t installed a driver version that could illuminate printer status and supplies for me. When I found what looked right at SoftPedia, I ran into an error message when I tried to install the program. It took me a while to figure out what was going on. But eventually, I realized I was benefiting from cert revocation on the file’s digital signature.
Here’s the error message:
Why would Samsung be blocked from running software on my PC? Thereupon hangs this tale…
[Click image to see full-sized view]
How Does Blocking Install Lead to Benefiting from Cert Revocation?
Good question! I had to dig a bit to figure this out. As it happens, MS maintains a registry of digital signatures for software. Checking that registry is part of the UAC process in deciding whether or not to permit installation to proceed. Publishers have the option of updating their signature status after the fact, so they can withdraw items from circulation (or render them moot). I’m not sure if what I ran into was an old, formerly valid program having been withdrawn from circulation, or if the program from SoftPedia simply says it’s a Samsung installer, and is actually something else. Either way, though, I don’t want it on my machine.
Warned by this block message, I dug into the Samsung site. There, I found a program called “Samsung Easy Printer Manager” that I was able to access through the downloads page for my printer’s make and model. The blocked software shows up as “Easy Deployment Manager” on the Details pane of its Properties page in File Explorer, so I’m inclined to think the program was legit, but is now out of date. But who knows: maybe I dodged a bullet!
Yesterday, Bill Karagounis, Microsoft’s Director of Program Management for the Windows Insider Program offered an update on UUP. It appeared in a Windows 10 blog post entitled “An Update on our Unified Update Platform (UUP).” That post is both helpful and interesting, and explains some of the shenanigans I’ve been experiencing and following lately on TenForums.com. Thus we get MS status on UUP as the upcoming Creator’s Update is nearly upon us. Here are some high points:
- The promise to reduce download size for build updates is happening, thanks to a new technology called “differential downloads.”
- When UUP hits the Current Branch in Creator’s Update, user can expect download size reductions of around 35%.
- Windows Update surveys PCs requesting updates to determine which differentials they need, and downloads only those items.
MS Status on UUP Is Mostly Positive
Here’s a graphic from the blog post that shows download size distribution. It also notes the median size for downloads on two recent builds (15025 and 15031; we’re on 15048 in the fast ring right now).
Median sizes can vary widely: 15025 was 910 MB, but 15031 was 2.56 GB.
The real impact of UUP comes for Cumulative Updates not for Version Upgrades (like those from 1507 to 1511, or from 1511 to 1607 for Current Branch users). Because they happen more or less monthly and not just twice a year, this will pay off handsomely in faster downloads and less aggregate bandwidth consumption on the Internet. Good move, MS!
What the blog post doesn’t address, is why various issues have cropped up with UUP as the developers work out its kinks. I’ve heard about and experienced hung downloads, hung installations, interminable download delays, and more. Just recently, the ability to capture UUP download files and convert them into an ISO was broken (Build 15042). Fortunately it’s now working again (Build 15048). I wish Microsoft would open its kimono and tell us more about these kinds of things, too. UUP is a good thing: my latest upgrade to Build 15048 was fast and smooth on both of my test machines. But I’d like to know and understand more about its inner workings. Wouldn’t you?
I jumped into Device Manager on my production PC this morning in search of audio drive info. I couldn’t help but notice that one of my Portable Devices flashed the yellow exclamation mark (!). Turns out my iPhone had apparently gone south (but this is one case where an iPhone issue surrenders to good troubleshooting). In fact, the General tab for the device read:
This device is not working properly because Windows cannot load the drivers required for this device (code 31).
My first step in figuring things out wasn’t the last, but it was close. I searched on the error text above in Google, and found lots of hits. But none were for the iPhone so I re-submitted the query string with an “iPhone” at its head. And sure enough, I immediately found a relevant Q&A on the Dell Laptop forums entitled “IPhone Driver cannot load (code 31).” It ultimately produced the following and very welcome status display in Device Manager, too:
It’s always nice when trouble goes down without a big fight.
How Many Ways Can the iPhone Link Go Bad?
Thanks to advice from Dell-Terry B, I got a list of things to check to run down the source of the problem:
- Check the USB cable (in this case a USB-to-Lightning connector): switching in a known good working cable proved to make no difference, so that wasn’t the cause.
- Verify that Apple Mobile Device Support is installed: this necessitated a trip into Programs and Features where I saw the software was indeed installed. A right-click on same offered a “Repair” option, so I took it. This apparently uninstalled and then reinstalled the software, which did the trick. My device status changed to “The device is working properly” and the exclamation point disappeared.
- Restart the Apple Mobile Device Service
- Restart the Apple Mobile Device Service
- Check for third-party mobile phone software (if you’ve connected another phone to the system, this may be the problem)
- Troubleshoot third-party security software (this involves elimination testing for all 3rd-party services, which can be a real PITA)
I’m glad I got off that escalator at step 2. The other steps grow more onerous, particularly Step 6, which involves trial-and-failure experimentation to identify an offending program or service. Been there, done that, no fun at all!2
In reading over the forum traffic at TenForums. recently, I encountered an item of great interest. This thread is entitled “File System Filter ‘wcifs’ Event ID 4.” Despite the title, it reveals that a number of Windows 10 users have been unable to create or use restore points recently. Curious to understand if my own system might be affected, I went looking for wcifs-related errors on my production PC. And sure enough, I found them. Not only that, I was also unable to revert to a brand-new restore point I created. This leads to my hypothesis — namely, that Win10 restore points appear broken.
Reverting to a recent restore point reported success, but then this message appeared following restart. Ouch!
What Makes Win10 Restore Points Appear Broken?
Discussion of the underlying problem based on error codes points toward some issue(s) with the Volume Shadow Service, or VSS. One astute reader pointed to a TechNet article about the File Screening Minifilter Driver. And indeed, errors related to that driver or to WCIFS appear to be present in all reports of this apparent breakdown for restore points in Build 1607 Version 14393. That’s the current production version of Windows 10, the Current Branch to be perfectly clear.
Another thread on TenForums picks up and runs further with the WCIFS theme. It’s entitled Warning about File System Filter ‘wcifs’ – what is THAT ??? That’s exactly my own actual symptoms, too, so I dug in to learn more. The emerging consensus is that this is indeed a Windows bug (not something caused by third-party applications or user error). And of course, this leads to the question posed in the afore-linked thread: What is WCIFS anyway?
This acronym stands for Windows Container Isolation file system, and refers to a file system driver for Windows Containers (a relatively new addition to the Windows OS, which hints at some reason(s) why it might be experiencing difficulties). A Google search on “windows container isolation filesystem” turns up lots of interesting hits, too. It looks like container support started making its way into Windows 10 and Windows Server 2016 earlier this year (sometime in April, perhaps). It’s a way to isolate a container from the host OS, so that file system changes inside the container don’t affect that OS. I’d have to guess that something has gone wrong with this somewhere, or that the context for Volume Shadow copies has somehow gotten mishandled, and that efforts to restore are violating container boundaries.
What to Do About Broken Restore Points?
This is an interesting set of problems whose resolution will be worth watching. I’ve filed a detailed report with the Windows 10 Feedback Hub, and hope it will lead to some action. In the meantime, I’m also no longer relying on restore points to haul my fat from the fire. I’ve upped my backup frequency to nightly using Macrium Reflect, and remain pretty sure I’ll be able to put myself back in action with no more than a day’s work lost. I’d suggest others think about the same or similar strategies, until this matter is resolved.
As the release for Windows 10 Creator’s Update nears, the pace of Insider Preview releases is accelerating. Just last week, I got stuck upgrading my desktop test PC to Build 15031 Enterprise. Ultimately, I performed a clean install of that build, plus its usual aftermath. But I got caught by an oversight when I could neither see nor grab Thursday’s subsequent 15042 Build. Thus, I re-state the maxim that entitles this post: “Always adjust defaults after clean install.”
What does that mean in this particular case? Alas, I forgot that a clean install of the Insider Preview automatically sets the build pace “Slow.” But only users who opt into “Fast” pace get new Builds as soon as they’re released. Slow users must wait until MS deems new releases stable enough for wider distribution. This led me down a few false trails before I found the real, dead-simple solution. My clean install was in the Slow group by default: toggling it Fast changed my status. Within minutes, I was happily downloading 15042; in under an hour it was installed and backed up.
Just one small toggle switches Insider Preview pace from “Slow” to “Fast.”
How Long Does the Switch-Over Take?
After selecting Fast as shown above, I wondered how long I’d have to wait for an upgrade offer. The “Note” at the end of the screencap hints at possible delay. So I waited 5 minutes, then tried my luck. I was pleasantly surprised when the 15042 update offer popped up. I was even more pleasantly surprised when I got through the entire upgrade process AND a complete system backup of the new build in under an hour.
If one can only remember things that need tweaking in the wake of a clean install, one can avoid such hiccups. The next time I do one, I’ll create a checklist which I will post here. Please: stay tuned!
Late last week MS released a new Windows 10 Insider Preview build. Little did I know that there would be “Interesting Issues in Insider Preview 15042.” But after a couple of failed installs, I found myself “bitten” on my Dell Venue Pro 11. That’s when I remembered that the release notes included this warning:
A small percentage of PCs may fail to update to this build due to a corrupt registry key. If your PC appears to be at the spinning dots black screen during boot for an unusual amount of time while updating to this build, hard reboot your PC and then run the following commands in an admin Command Prompt…
Those commands included deleting two registry keys, and disabling locality state for IPv6 on affected machines. (See the release notes for all the details, please.)
It took three tries to get it installed, but eventually I got Build 15042 up and running.
Interesting Issues in Insider Preview 15042 Lead to Multiple Install Attempts
Ultimately, it would take me 3 tries to get the install to work properly. The first one failed at 77% of the way through the post-reboot phase of processing the upgrade. In the wake of the first failure, I used TenForums guru Kari’s UUPtoISO tutorial to build an ISO from the leftover files. (That’s a nice and unexpected benefit of such a failure, as it turns out.)
Then my second attempt using setup.exe from the mounted ISO file failed in the same part of the install process. That’s when I remembered the warning from the release notes. I’m pleased to say that after following its instructions, the third install try indeed proved to be the charm. I now have a working install of Build 15042 running on my Dell hybrid tablet.
The UUP-to-ISO conversion tool also reads MS-supplied values to construct the ISO file name. Here’s what it produced for this latest build:
This name appears to indicate we’re nearing final status for the beta version of Windows 10. I’m also guessing from the appearance of OEM in this filename that the build is either at or soon to hit OEM release status. That’s usually shared with OEMs 30 days or so before the final release goes public. Thus, the timing is right for an early-to-mid April release for the next Win10 version, as recent news and rumors from Microsoft have led many insiders to expect.
Almost two weeks ago, I blogged here about the addition of a new security feature in Insider Preview Build 15031. It’s called Dynamic Lock. Dynamic Lock senses the signal strength from a cellphone paired via Bluetooth with a Windows 10 device. When that signal drops below a threshold, the feature causes the Win10 device to lock itself. This turns off direct access, and puts up the lockscreen, much like an inactivity disconnect. Now, thanks to the efforts of Rafael Rivera at Thurrott.com/Petri.Net, Win10 Dynamic Lock gets cool tool power. It comes in the form of a small utility named draconyx.exe. Here’s a screen cap:
The draconyx.exe program measures signal strength from Bluetooth devices once every minute or so and reports current readings.
When Win10 Dynamic Lock Gets Cool Tool, What Can It Do for You?
Internally, Dynamic Lock uses a measure of something called Received Signal Strength Indication (RSSI) to make the call on locking a device. According to Rivera, the control connects to a Bluetooth-paired cellphone “several times a minute.” Each time it does, it measures the RSSI value, then disconnects from the phone. When that value drops below a certain level, it locks the device. Rivera’s observation about the way this works is worth heeding, for those running phones and Win10 devices from battery: “Because an active connection is established every time this ritual is performed, you can bet there will be a battery life hit on both devices.” You’ve been warned!
That threshold value, according to Rivera, appears to be about -10 deciBels (dB). For Bluetooth devices 0 dB represents an optimal signal. A drop of 10 dB represents almost 70% reduction in signal strength, according to a deciBel to amplitude converter. That’s a pretty major drop and may be further away than it really needs to be before imposing a lock. At home, I was able to observe the lock kick in when I carried the phone all the way to the other side of the house, about 45 feet away. Perhaps that’s because my signal-rich kitchen sits between the room where the Dell Venue Pro 11 lay and the other room where I put the paired iPhone.
Using Draconyx.exe to Set the Lock Threshold
For those who want to lower the default distance, Rivera identifies a registry value BluetoothRssiMaxDelta (DWORD) one can set up to tweak the threshold. (See his story for the details.) You can use it to set up a threshold to lock your device when you leave the room, your office space, or your building, as you like. And that’s what makes it a cool tool. Thanks Rafael: Nice work!
Rivera also opines that the Dynamic Lock is flaky enough that it might not make it into the upcoming Creators Update in April. We’ll have to wait and see on that, but I hope it stays in the production OS. It’s an interesting and convenient feature, as far as I can tell.
By default, Windows 10 includes a built-in admin account. In fact, it’s named “Administrator.” Here, I explain here how to enable disable Win10 Administrator account. Basically, there are two ways to proceed: at the command line, or in Computer Management.
Enable Disable Win10 Administrator Account from the Command Line or PowerShell
This is just a matter of working a specific NET command — namely net user. Just a minor variation on the same command turns the Administrator account on or off (no means disabled/yes means enabled):
net user "Administrator" /active:no
net user "Administrator" /active:yes
net user administrator <Password>
Remember: run this from an account that’s a member of the Administrators group. Don’t do it from the Administrator account, either. And please, do it from a command prompt or PowerShell window “run as administrator.” The third command sets a password for that account at the command line, too. (Replace <Password> with the password of your choosing, and make it a good one.)
Enable Disable Win10 Administrator Account from Computer Management
Here, we use the GUI method. Type “Computer Management” into the search box, then run the Computer Management console. In Computer Management, navigate to Users inside Local Users and Groups. Next, right-click on the “Administrator” account in the resulting list in the middle pane, as shown. Then, open its Properties window. By default the Administrator account is disabled. To enable it, uncheck the box that reads “Account is disabled.” To disable the account, re-check the same box.
Just one little checkbox enables or disables the account (it’s disabled by default).
[Click screencap to see full-size image]
For sure, if you are going to use the Administrator account, your next move should be to log into that account and set a suitably strong password. By default, that account has no password defined and just logs right into the PC where it’s been enabled. That’s best remembered and corrected immediately, lest you leave a security hole in that system big enough to steer a battleship through.
When Does Administrator Come in Handy?
Again by default, the first account you set up on a Windows 10 machine is a member of the Administrator’s group. If something happens to that account — for example, a corrupted user profile — you might not be able to log into that machine locally with admin privileges. In some cases, domain accounts might also be locked out or unusable. That’s when the built-in Administrator account can be a real life-saver for conducting recover and/or repair operations.
On the other hand, this account is disabled for a good reason: doing so “reduces the attack surface on a Windows PC,” in the immortal words of Ed Bott. Always a good idea, and why you should only enable it during emergences, then disable it again when the emergency is over.