Windows Enterprise Desktop

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.

October 19, 2012  5:02 PM

As GA Grows Ever Closer, More Signs of OS Completion Pop Up

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve noticed an increasing number of signs that Windows 8 really is gearing up for full-scale commercial launch. For one thing, last week Lenovo posted a Windows 8 version of its System Update Facility, which has now been happily downloading updates to my X220 Tablet ever since. So far, Lenovo has pushed new drivers for the X220 Tablet’s Ricoh Media Card Reader and a new Audio driver its way. I’ve also noticed the frequency of new beta drivers for Lenovo stuff is slowing down, as more final stuff starts getting into regular update channels. It truly is starting to look as if Windows 8 stuff will be going into normal update and delivery status in time for next week’s GA.

Two hits and a miss from the Lenovo System Update utility.

Two hits and a miss from the Lenovo System Update utility.

The same thing is true for my desktop Windows 8 system, too. Just yesterday, Windows Update pushed the latest nVidia driver onto that machine (GeForce R304 Driver, version 306.97, release date 10/10/2012). Ditto for an update to the IntelliType software for that machine’s Comfort Curve 2000 keyboard from Microsoft. Because driver compatibility with Windows 7 has been very good, there may be a few more items that show up via update for Windows 8 machines, but my gut feel is we’re not going to experience a huge upheaval once the GA date comes and goes.

That’s not to say that things are completely easy-breezy just yet. Many of the Lenovo ThinkVantage elements aren’t yet “officially available” for Windows 8, including the “home base” element — namely, the Lenovo ThinkVantage Toolbox — along with ThinkVantage Rescue and Recovery (backup and repair utilities), Drive Space Manager, the Lenovo Hardware Scanner, and so forth. In fact, the Lenovo Support pages are running impossibly slowly as I write this blog, which leads me to wonder if they’re not madly posting Windows 8 related updates right now… I’m seeing strange URLs there that include strings like “LegacyDocID=MIGR-61431” which make me wonder if they’re not perhaps in the process of updating their entire document management system, and migrating from an old platform to a new one. Stands to reason that they would do this before Windows 8 goes GA, and a whole new world of support opportunities opens up before them! That might also explain why I can’t seem to get the new Windows 8 Active Protection System element to download to my tablet PC, either.

October 17, 2012  9:19 PM

The Continuing Windows 8 Flash Update Saga

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

On October 9, Microsoft pushed an update to Windows Flash for Windows 8, but Secunia PSI still reports that 11.x versions of Flash Player (both 32- and 64-bit now, in fact) still need updating:

Both 64- and 32-bit versions now show up in need of an update in Secunia PSI.

Both 64- and 32-bit versions now show up in need of an update in Secunia PSI.

Curious as to why this might be, I right-clicked an entry to get at more details, then selected “Show details” to see a list of installed versions. Much to my surprise, I’ve uncovered at least part of the problem. As with other Windows-pushed updates, the relevant code lives inside the …\Windows\WinSxS folder, where each flash version gets its own folder to live in. Again in keeping with MS update methods new versions are added but old ones never get deleted (you need a “force delete” tool such as Empty Loop’s Unlocker 1.9.1, because Windows itself allows only the Trusted Installer to add or remove entries in this folder).

So even though a new version of Flash is indeed present on my machine — see the entry dated 10/9/2012 in the following graphic — PSI is reacting to the ongoing presence of older versions in the WinSxS directory to flag the presence of an older version as a potential security problem. I’m not convinced this is a valid detection, and suspect that Secunia will have to change how PSI detects and reports on elements in the WinSxS repository for Windows 8. It should be interesting to see what steps the company takes to update its software when the GA date arrives, and it begins to formally offer support for this new operating system.

Note the large number of 64-bit versions of Adobe Flash Player (7) ensconced in the WinSxS folder.

Note the large number of 64-bit versions of Adobe Flash Player (7) ensconced in the WinSxS folder.

It’s interesting to discover that sometimes more than one organization has to change its tools and methods to accommodate new software — in this case, the Windows 8 operating system.

October 15, 2012  3:29 PM

Logitech Introduces Windows 8 Touch Devices

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

In the past several months, Microsoft has introduced special Windows-8 oriented peripherals including a variety of “touch mice” and keyboards designed to help conventional PC users maximize their Windows 8 experience. Last week, Logitech followed suit with a collection of Windows 8 touch devices (and some keyboards) as well.

Left to right: Zone Touch Mouse T400, Touchpad T650, Touch Mouse T620.

Left to right: Zone Touch Mouse T400, Touchpad T650, Touch Mouse T620.

These devices are designed to support use of gestures on their surfaces (and to control cursor movement) to help users take advantage of Windows 8’s touch-oriented user interface without necessarily acquiring a touchscreen. I see this approach — which Microsoft also supports with its various touch mice — as a more affordable way to upgrade existing systems to Windows 8 without having to replace conventional monitors with touchscreen counterparts. Besides for regular systems (and most business applications) there’s simply no reason to use touch all that much, expect for UI navigation anyway. This approach makes a nice and affordable compromise available to users or organizations that may not even want to pony up for touchscreens anyway. Here’s a little more information on the three devices depicted above (all three work with the Logitech unifying receiver, with no word about Bluetooth versions available as yet):

  • Zone Touch Mouse T400: (MSRP: $50) includes conventional mouse buttons at the top front of the mouse body’s surface, but also incorporates a glass-covered touch zone for horizontal scrolling. It provides shortcuts to access the Win8 Start screen (press the front of the touch zone) and Win8’s list of open apps (press back of the touch zone, just below the buttons). The maker claims this mouse will run for up to 18 months on a pair of AA batteries.
  • Rechargeable Touchpad T560: (MSRP: $80) looks to be about 4×4″ in size, and includes a built-in rechargeable USB battery that the company suggests will last for up to one month before a plug-in becomes necessary (via USB to the host PC). It supports its own library of Win8 gestures (videos of all gestures in use are available online). This device appears designed to provide the most natural Windows 8 touch experience to users, but is also the highest-priced of these three offerings, too.
  • Touch Mouse T620: (MSRP: $60) features a smooth glass surface all over, and its own sets of Win8 and Win7 gestures. It also uses two AA batteries for power, which Logitech claims will last up to 6 months in this device. Aside from the tap-based gestures it supports, the entire top surface of this mouse also acts like a touchpad and supports a variety of gestures for shortcuts and navigation.

Look for these devices to hit stores on October 25, when Windows 8 GA ships.

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