Windows Enterprise Desktop

November 12, 2012  5:26 PM

Interesting Lesson in Customer Support from Lenovo

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you already know that Lenovo has been updating its PC and notebook drivers and software for Windows 8, surely but steadily, since the March-April timeframe of this year. Just recently, I downloaded their latest version of the ThinkVantage Power Manager software (version 3.00.0006) which represented itself on the download page as ready for Windows 7 and Vista but made no mention of  Windows 8. Having had pretty good luck getting 7 stuff to work with 8, I decided to give it a try anyway. It installed without errors or warnings, but lacks any reporting on or coverage of the battery installed in that machine (see photo).

This oddly-shaped battery provides a handle for the convertible tablet/notebook X220 Tablet.

This oddly-shaped battery provides a handle for the convertible tablet/notebook X220 Tablet.

Imagine my surprise when I later downloaded and installed the Lenovo Solution Center for Windows 8… (LSC) and it produced the following screen on the X220 Tablet:

The battery is working fine, but LSC reports "Battery not installed."

The battery is working fine, but LSC reports “Battery not installed.”

This was very interesting, because the battery appeared to be working just fine but simply invisible to the Power Manager (and by extension, to LSC as well). I could see and access it using the built-in Power Options item in Control Panel, and a quick download and test of my favorite third-party battery manager — namely, Battery Bar (and its even better commercial sibling, Battery Bar Pro) — showed that the battery was indeed present, and seemed to be doing its job well enough. I’m not wild about the battery life for the X220 Tablet’s stock battery — the 63Wh 42T4879 model only delivers about 2-3 hours of life under normal usage — so I decided to call support, share this information with them, and see what would happen.

It took me about half an hour to get on the phone with a support technician after initial dial-in. I explained the situation to her as clearly and concisely as I could, and she said that she would research the matter and someone would call me back “soon.” That was on Friday morning (November 9). This morning, the UPS guy rang my doorbell and presented me with a box containing –surprise! — a replacement battery for the X220 Tablet. I can only assume the company decided to replace the battery because of the LSC diagnostic (bogus, IMO) about which I reported to them. Lenovo may end up eating costs for a lot of X220 Tablet batteries, if all those who own these machines and upgrade to Windows 8 do as I have done, and call in to report the LSC status and wind up with a free replacement. The cheapest price I can find for that part number is $42, not to mention costs involved in shipping and handling a replacement unit via UPS Next Day Air (I’m guessing this cost Lenovo at least $60, perhaps more).

But wow! What a way to “update status” on a request for help with immediate delivery of a replacement. You cannot at all fault Lenovo (or IBM Support, which handled my phone call for Lenovo) for slow, faulty, or non-responsive customer service. Without a doubt, this is the very best warranty replacement service I have ever received from any vendor of computing gear, in all the years I’ve been in the industry. Amazing!

November 9, 2012  5:02 PM

Heads-up! First Win8 Critical Security Updates A’Comin!

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Next Tuesday, November 13, will be the first Patch Tuesday since the official Windows 8 release occurred on October 26. Thus, it’s entirely fitting that Windows 8 will receive its first-ever “Critical” updates on that day. I puzzled over an article from Lance Whitney at CNET a few minutes ago because it was entitled “Windows 8, RT to get first critical security patches next Tuesday,” until it finally dawned on me that he wasn’t saying “first security patches” in general, but rather “first security patches with a Critical designation.” Because MS explains this as a “vulnerability whose exploitation could allow code execution without user interaction,” this is pretty serious stuff indeed.

Here’s a preview of coming attractions from the MS Security Bulletin for November 2012 (advance edition):

Three items make the critical grade for immanent Windows 8 security patches.

Three items make the critical grade for immanent Windows 8 security patches.

Of the three items that apply to Windows 8 with critical designations (Bulletins 2, 4, and 5) all are labeled with remote code execution, and at least two of them will require a restart (1 and 5) and 4 may also require a restart as well. It should be interesting to see exactly what these bulletins cover, and how well Windows 8 slips into the regular Patch Tuesday cycle going forward. So far, we’ve seen two Windows Updates for the Flash Player, an important GA cumulative update (KB2756872), protected content playback (KB2768703), and logo images in All Apps view (KB2751352). But other than the usual Flash folderol there’s been nothing designed to fend off potential system takeovers. Maybe next Tuesday will change things?

November 7, 2012  3:06 PM

Thurrott Tantalizes with Interesting Intimations about MS Intune Revision

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

In reading a recent (11/6/2012) posting from Paul Thurrott entitled “Taking Surface to Work” I stumbled across an incredibly interesting and tantalizing set of suggestions about what an upcoming planned revision to Microsoft’s Intune cloud-based PC and device management service could mean for enterprises interesting in centralized management and security for PCs and a variety of mobile devices, including Windows 8 RT and Windows 8 Phone devices. Let me begin with an extended quote from his blog post:

Surface comes with the same desktop-based Remote Desktop Connection (RDC) you know and love from Windows 7 and Windows 8, and it works the same way, allowing you to access remote PCs and servers through RDP. (There’s a Metro version too, if you’re all in on the new stuff.) It’s also compatible with RemoteApp, meaning that you can stream individual apps from servers to the Windows RT desktop, just as you do with normal Windows versions. So that’s all good.

For now, Surface can be managed only using Exchange ActiveSync (EAS). That is, it can’t connect to a domain and be managed with Group Policy. EAS is actually pretty good: You can configure PIN and password policies, do remote wipe, and so on. But if you’re familiar with the granularity of Group Policy, you know you can do a lot more to lock down true Windows clients. And although Windows RT (and thus Surface) can’t partake in that, change is coming.

Soon, Microsoft will ship a revision to its Windows Intune cloud-based PC and device management service. And although the firm hasn’t talked too much about this update, it will include Microsoft’s implementation of the Open Management Interface (OMI), which, put simply, offers more granular management capabilities than does EAS. This will make Surface (and all RT devices) far more manageable than other mobile devices based on Android or iOS. (Yes, Windows Phone 8 will use this management infrastructure, too.) [Italic emphasis mine]

I can’t say much about OMI yet, but I’ll note that it makes a ton of sense to use a cloud-based service to manage devices that are never going to be connecting to your on-premises infrastructure anyway. It makes so much sense that my understanding is that this capability will never, in fact, be added to System Center. Instead, I believe that System Center licensees will get — free or inexpensively — the right to use Intune for this purpose, too.

What this means is that MS understands full well that enterprises simply won’t use RT unless it can be managed rationally–which is to say centrally, using standard existing tools and platforms, with a rich and varied enough set of controls to ensure proper security, data and loss protection, and ways to mitigate potential loss or theft of IP and confidential information. The new revision to Intune is supposed to deliver just that, and should make Surface much easier for enterprises to set up, deploy, manage, and control — all of which should also make Surface much easier for such organizations to adopt and accommodate.

This is the first strong evidence I’ve seen that Microsoft is taking the long view in making Windows 8 an attractive option for enterprise class organizations and their users. They know that most of these kinds of adopters will wait a year or two before adopting the platform anyway. It looks like MS is doing due diligence to make sure that when enterprises are ready to start entertaining the idea of migrating to Windows 8,  they will find it attractive. Thus, the mobile device options that Windows 8 offers will not only be appealing to their user communities, but also fit nicely into a vision of device and security management that, according to ITIL and other business process methodologies, represents the “right way” to deploy and manage technology within a modern organization. Veeeeeeeeeeeery interesting!

November 6, 2012  1:54 AM

The Windows 8 Upgrade Experience

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

OK, so now I’ve been through it, too. On my brand-new Dell XPS-13, I’ve exercised the $14.99 upgrade to Windows 8 (followed by a $40 Upgrade to Windows 8 Pro) to catch the machine’s OS up Microsoft’s latest and greatest offering. I followed up the Dell “Windows 8 Upgrade Offer,” charged it to my credit card, then downloaded the upgrade. Along the way, I encountered two very interesting Windows 8 Store app-style screens:

Left side reads: Install now/Install by creating media/Install later from desktop
Right side reads: USB Flash Drive/ISO File

Unlike the pre-release version, Windows 8 offers more upgrade options than with previous versions (which ostensibly required clean re-installs to move from one version to the next, but which could be “tricked” into upgrading). I especially like the option of creating a bootable UFD (USB Flash Drive) because it can be re-used more than once after it’s created (though you must use a different key for each install, and the $15 upgrade process — including collecting the all-important install key — MUST be run on the intended target machine). The $40 upgrade is a little more forgiving: you can pay for up to 5 keys on a single machine, then use them with the UFD for other machines where you want to go through the upgrade motions.

FWIW, I elected to forgo the “upgrade right away” option on my XPS-13 because I had some Intel driver issues to fix that required uninstalling Wi-Fi, along with a few other odds and ends, before I could apply the upgrade. Since Wi-Fi is the only networking option built into the XPS-13 — as an ultrabook, it lacks an RJ-45 port for wired Ethernet — I elected to burn a USB drive with a bootable OS image, and then install later, after I cleaned up my drivers and installed and used my wired StarTech USB 3.0 GbE interface for networking instead. All of this worked reasonably well, and the whole process took just under an hour to complete. But I did also have to spend some time cleaning up drivers before I could lurch ahead into the outright OS install process.

Another word of warning: make sure you have ready access to your Windows 8 key, because when you run the Installer, it asks for the key BEFORE it runs the compatibility check. Because of this ordering — which made me a little nostalgic for the days of standalone compatibility checkers — I had to print my key from the XPS-13 running Windows 7 before booting into the install UFD, to re-run the compatibility check to create my “to do” list of things to clean up before running the installer again. In fact, the compatibility check comes about 5 steps into the installation process, which makes it tedious to have to repeat it more than once, so be prepared to print or otherwise capture your own to-do list the first time you run the Updater, and you may save some extra time that way. But the Installer does give you the option of uninstalling offending items directly, as shown in the screen cap, and picks up where it left off after a reboot so all goes pretty well along the way. I chose that option for the XPS-13 and it worked spiffily, but added 10-12 minutes to the overall install time. My advice is to do a clean reinstall, unless you have compelling reasons to keep elements of your current Windows 7 installation around.

You can click the "Uninstall" button for most offending items right insider the Win8 installer itself.

You can click the “Uninstall” button for most offending items right insider the Win8 installer itself.

Once the install completed, I ran DriverUpdate to see what needed to be found and re-installed to make the machine’s drivers current. Curiously, it was mostly Intel stuff that needed to be brought back up to snuff. Took about 2 hours to get everything as squared away as I could (DriverAgent says the system needs a new version of WiDi, but I can’t get the recommended program to find any WiDi adapters; looks like I have to take it into the living room with my new Samsung SmartTV).

Here’s what I get from the Windows Experience survey in Windows 8 on this machine:

Amazing variation between the i5 CPU and the Samsung mSATA SSD here!

Amazing variation between the i5 CPU and the Samsung mSATA SSD here!

Between my MSDN license (which gets me 5 licenses each for Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro, plus one Windows 8 Enterprise license) and the 5 licenses I can buy through the $40 upgrade program, plus the one el-cheapo I qualify for on my Dell XPS-13, I think I’m taken care of as far as Windows 8 licenses go. But life will be harder for those pirates who seek to exploit low-cost TechNet and MSDN licenses, and I hope the low prices on legit upgrades will spur users to purchase them on the open market rather than on the grey-to-black market, instead. As upgrades go, this one didn’t kill me and isn’t terribly different from the Vista-to-7 or XP-to-7 experience.

November 2, 2012  3:25 PM

TIFKAM (Metro) Apps Become “Windows Store” Apps Instead

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel
Metro remains popular outside MS, even as official nomenclature gets revised.

Metro remains popular outside MS, even as official nomenclature gets revised.

TIFKAM is, of course, my slightly-tongue-in-cheek acronym for “The Interface Formerly Known As Metro.” After some hoopla and waffling in the wake of Microsoft’s decision to kill the “Metro” name for its tile-oriented user interface, the Windows 8 UI has gone through a whole slew of names since then. To the best of my ability, that series of names runs something like this:

1. Modern
2. Modern UI-style
3. Windows 8-style
4. Windows 8 style UI
5. Windows 8 Store
6. Windows Store

A recent CNet story report that the new official nomenclature is “…simply Windows Store apps.” As numerous observers have noted, this is not exactly a thrilling or even terribly descriptive brand name. And according to Mary Jo Foley of ZDnet, Microsoft is following suit to change what had formerly been known as “the Metro design language and style” to “the Microsoft Design Language” instead.

OK, so now we know what to call it, according to MS official nomenclature. But I read a lot of Windows 8 coverage, and many experts — including Ed Bott, Paul Thurrott, and Fred Langa — continue to use the word “Metro” to describe the Windows 8 interface, even though they all routinely acknowledge that this term is no longer officially blessed. I’m curious to see if Microsoft can actually move the world along to adopt its own terminology or if the original term will continue to stick, where non-MSofties use “Metro” as their preferred name, and simply acknowledge (once, at the beginning of any discussion) what the current name of the moment might happen to be, and stick to the original moniker.

What’s in a name for the Windows UI? Beats me, but this flopping about and constant change is both irritating and interesting at the same time!

October 31, 2012  3:21 PM

What Does It Take to Use Win8 on a Business PC?

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Today, I’m doing a recap and shout-out to Tony Bradley’s excellent PCWorld blog entitled “10 Essential Ingredients of a Killer Windows 8 Business PC.”

The Lenovo Yoga 13 runs full-blown Win8 and has a great tablet ethos, too.

The Lenovo Yoga 13 runs full-blown Win8 and has a great tablet ethos, too.

Instead of the Sony Vaio with which he kicks off his blog, I show a publicity still of the new Lenovo Yoga 13″ convertible laptop/tablet, which is garnering accolades as one of the best combo platforms for Windows 8, with strong chops both as a tablet and as a conventional laptop. Bradley cites an interesting iYogi survey in his blog that “…38 percent of the respondents currently using iPads for business are exploring Windows 8 tablet options…” and “…one-third of small businesses are considering switching to Windows 8…” Both of these numbers are somewhat higher than I would expect (I’d love to know how they selected the population of 175 small business customers they interviewed).

The ten characteristics that Bradley enumerates in his blog are as follows:
1. Touch support: if not an outright touch screen (not terribly practical for conventional desktop or laptop PCs), then a multi-touch touchpad is essential for Win 8.
2. Horsepower: Win 8 works well on existing Win 7 PCs and laptops, and doesn’t make strenuous budget demands for new PCs, either.
3. Storage: 500 GB or more of local storage, plus access to SkyDrive, means that Win 8 users don’t have major storage woes.
4. Battery: The focus on mobility for Win 8 means it’s an excellent power miser, and makes the idea of “a day’s work on a single charge” more realistic (if still a bit too optimistic) than ever before.
5. Portability: Nothing beats a tablet for light weight and small form factor, though the size and weight of the platform is best determined by the kind of workload users must manage.
6. Connections: Choose your ports wisely and well, and recognize that tablets come with precious few of them. Pick USB 3.0 whenever possible to exploit its higher throughput.
7. Networking: If you need mobile networking, look for devices with 3G or 4G WWAN support. Consider waiting for 802.11 ac wireless, if high network bandwidth is important to you.
8. Durability: Be sure your tablet or notebook can take a beating to improve the rates of survival for business travel or you might be sorry. Another great argument for SSD storage comes from its ability to withstand shocks and trauma without damage to data and programs.
9. Security: Win 8 offers improved support for UEFI, TPM, biometric scanners, and more to up the overall security for this new OS.
10.Flexibility:Win8 lets users combine tablet and laptop functionality to give buyers (and users) more options on how to work while on the move. Overall, this is a good thing for business users.

Overall, I’m in agreement with Bradley’s analysis, and believe that Win8 will enjoy some business uptake and success. But I think it’s going to take time, and it will be something of a difficult slog for MS to convince business users to give up on Windows 7 in the wake of recent migrations and the whole Vista debacle.

October 29, 2012  4:33 PM

Interesting Contortion to Reclaim Time Machine Disk for Windows Re-Use

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

I’m sending off my 2010 MacBook Air to Virginia, so my high-school age niece can use it regularly for schoolwork (I never really found as much call for it was I thought I would, once I finished tech editing Chris Minnick’s WebKit For Dummies late last year). That left me with a USB drive that I’d been using for Time Machine backups that I wanted to repurpose for backing up my Lenovo Windows 7 and 8 notebook PCs (an X220 Tablet running Windows 8 Pro, and a T520 notebook running Windows 7 Professional). But when I tried to reformat the drive to make the switch to Windows, I learned two interesting things:

1. Mac OS X lays down a 200 MB EFI partition at the head of its disks, even USB-attached drives.
2. The built-in Windows Disk Management tool diskmgmt.msc won’t delete or format over EFI partitions.

Obviously, I needed a different tool for this job, and I found it in Paragon Software’s Hard Disk Manager 12 Suite. Using this toolset, I was immediately able to grab and delete the offending EFI partition, after which I reformatted the entire drive (nominal 750 GB, 698 GB reported in Windows Explorer) without any further difficulty. I’ve already backed up both Lenovo machines, and sucked up nearly 80 GB of space on this drive, a Samsung SpinPoint HD753LJ hard disk.

This little adventure reminded me that where there’s a will there’s a way to get things done in Windows, but also that exercising such will must sometimes involve tools outside what Microsoft uses to stock its basic OS toolbox. For dealing with disk issues of all kinds — including  OS migration, partition management and resizing, and repair — I’ve found the Paragon Software tools to be straightforward to use, entirely reliable, and reasonably affordable. Be sure to check them out at the Paragon Software site online; free trials (some with functionality limited to virtual mode operation only) are available for most of its products. Good stuff!

Concluding Note:
I realized that I was guilty of GUI thinking in jumping out of the Windows corral to tackle this problem, so these contortions are at least partly of my own making. Of course, I could have turned to the command line instead, where the diskpart utility could have done away with the offending EFI partition pretty quickly (along with the rest of that drive’s existing disk structure). All I had to do was use the diskpart command, then issue the following sequence of instructions:

DISKPART> list disk
DISKPART> select disk y

In this command sequence, y stands for the drive number for the target drive, so the target drive need not even be mounted as a Windows file system volume to perform this task (a good thing, since any Mac OS drive won’t mount by default in Windows). The concluding exit command is required to exit the diskpart utility, after which you can close the command window.

October 26, 2012  4:44 PM

OK, Here’s a Windows 8 Upgrade deal…

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

When I jumped up onto the Lenovo site this morning, I saw that their Support page how features this snazzy new graphical element at its mid-upper right side:

Look what just showed up, the very day that Windows 8 goes GA!

Look what just showed up, the very day that Windows 8 goes GA!

You can tell this is really new stuff, because I found myself on this re-direct page immediately after clicking that graphic:

I had to click "English" to get to a working page, in fact.

I had to click English to get to a working page, in fact.

What I saw next started to spell things out in a more understandable way:

OK, now it all starts making sense...

OK, now it all starts making sense…

But alas, digging into the details, I observed that the Lenovo Support pages were getting hammered, probably by others who were seeking the same information I was. Alas, I also learned only that while both my Lenovo systems — a T520 notebook and an X220 Tablet — could be indeed be upgraded to Windows 8, neither had been purchased recently enough to qualify for the lowball $15 upgrade (the cutoff dates for eligible purchase start on June 2, 2012 and extend through January 31, 2013). That said, Lenovo has been busy getting its system owners ready for upgrade, as shown in this screen cap:

Lots of instructions and how-tos to migrate from 7 to 8 from Lenovo.

Lots of instructions and how-tos to migrate from 7 to 8 from Lenovo.

Visiting the Dell site (I just received an XPS 13 ultrabook from them two months ago, within the “free upgrade” timeframe for Win8) I was immediately directed to the page where I went through the drill for that PC. To my astonishment and delight, the deal went through without a hitch, and I found myself in possession of a completed registration for that upgrade offer. The e-mail came through about five minutes later, and I learned you must access the link to the upgrade on the system you wish to upgrade. I fired off the process, which instructed me to download and run the Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant. But alas, the compatibility details let me know I needed to uninstall my wireless connection before attempting to install Windows 8 (which poses an interesting problem unless an offline install is possible on the XPS 13 because it lacks a wired Ethernet port; fortunately, I do have a USB 3.0 GbE Ethernet interface, so I may be able to weasel around this issue using alternate connectivity). I also learned that my trackpad lacks a Windows 8 driver (but I got started on Windows 8 on this machine a few weeks ago and the install program worked with the trackpad, so I’m not overly concerned about this). Looks like I’ll have to set aside some time next week to go through the upgrade process then (I want to make a complete backup, and an image backup before making the OS switch anyway, just to be safe).

We’re off to the Windows 8 races, it seems. And we’re bound to encounter some gotchas along the way if my experience this morning is any indication — and I’m pretty sure it is! Bon voyage to all of us…

October 24, 2012  2:31 PM

Great article on USB Troubleshooting

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Sandro Villinger and I have crossed paths many times in the past few years, originally thanks to writing for the same website: Tom’s Hardware (originally a German-based PC enthusiast site, now a flagship for French-owned global media company Sandro has a unique facility to lift the covers on Windows to expose all kinds of important and interesting stuff, yet present it in a friendly and approachable way. He’s done it again with a recent article for the HP-sponsored InputCreatesOutput site entitled “How to Fix Slow USB Connections and Devices.”

In that story he plows through common causes for perceived slow USB connection ranging from believing the hype (just because USB 3.0 has a theoretical maximum throughput of 5 Gbps doesn’t mean you’ll ever see anything close to that kind of throughput on a real, live USB 3.0 link, no matter how fast the devices on either end of the connection might be), to recognizing and fixing cable problems, to benchmarking connections, Windows write-caching, impact of power management regimes, and more. It’s a a fascinating read not only because it brings a bunch of useful topics and tips together under a single umbrella, but also because it presents the necessary information simply and directly enough that most of us will be able to put his suggestions to work.

It’s enough to make me wish that Sandro’s books on Windows XP and Vista had been translated into English from their original German. It also makes me regret dropping out of a Windows 8 book project earlier this year, because I’d lined Sandro up as a co-author for that project. All I can hope is that he gets the chance to reach an English-speaking audience with his impressive yet accessible trove of Windows skills and knowledge, whether or not I get to come along for that ride!

October 22, 2012  3:47 PM

Lenovo Support RSS Feed Delivers the Goods

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Keeping up with new drivers is always tricky. In general Lenovo does a great job of making drivers available to its customers, but it’s not always easy to tell exactly what’s new (take for example, the Lenovo Windows 8 Beta Drivers page, where you can see no driver dates until you dive down into any of the device/software categories on that page) or to get notifications as and when new drivers of interest appear. At least, that’s what I thought until I stumbled upon Lenovo Support’s RSS Feed this weekend.

Every time a patch or software or driver update goes out, an item appears on this RSS feed.

Every time a patch or software or driver update goes out, an item appears on this RSS feed.

Of course, not all feed items apply to all Lenovo makes and models. But it’s great to be able to subscribe to the feed, then jump quickly online to potential items of interest to see if they apply to one’s particular machines as need or interest might dictate. Shoot, I’ve already used this feed to find and install drivers for non-Lenovo machines (including my Windows 8 desktop) with great success as well. I wish more vendors would adopt this kind of proactive information sharing approach, as it makes keeping up with new stuff ever so much easier and better consolidated. In particular, it’s already been helpful to alert me to new Intel driver releases that are otherwise tricky to learn about or find through the Intel website itself. Other folks who, like me, are especially interested in drivers and system tweaking and tuning should find this RSS feed informative too, even if they don’t own a single Lenovo computer.

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