Yesterday (September 29, 2009) MS relased its latest free anti-malware service to provide basic protection against viruses, spyware, and other malware. There’s a home page for this technology at www.microsoft.com/security_essentials/ from whence you can download this software for 32- and 64-bit versions of Windows including Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7. Is there a catch to this largesse? You bet, but it’s neither onerous nor surprising: you can only install and use this software if your Windows installation meets the “genuine Windows” test (which requires downloading an ActiveX authenticity checker, then passing its tests). Minimum system requirements are described in detail as well, and from what I see there, nobody who can run one of the OSes it supports should be unable to run this toolset, either. It even supports Windows XP Mode within Windows 7, which should make it a pretty popular anti-malware solution for those who need protection for their Windows VMs.
I downloaded and installed this software on one of my netbook PCs, and observed some interesting things along the way. First, even though MS says you can access and download the software using either Firefox or IE, I was only able to get the download to work using IE (it looked like some kind of Silverlight-based download pop-up window which IE let me manipulate quite happily, but which Firefox couldn’t do much with). Second, I observed some astounding download transfer rates while grabbing this file: I averaged nearly 1.5 MBps (that’s 12 Mbps) throughout the download, and saw a peak of 2.44 MBps (that’s around 20 Mbps). MS is obviously running some fast, powerful server farms these days, and probably using some fancy download compression tools, to produce these kinds of results — especially the day after a major product announcement like this one.
I’m going to be trying out Security Essentials and reporting as I go on my various test machines and adventures. Check out some of these early or pre-reviews for some interesting information so far:
- Neil Rubenking has posted a review of Microsoft Security Essentials 1.0 at PCMag.com. He rates it with “Average malware removal” and “One-Dimensional Malware Blocking,” for a modest ho-hum evaluation.
- Nick Mediati described this software for PC World in a pre-release news story entitled “Microsoft Security Essentials Launches Tuesday.” His 6/23/09 review chronicles the beta version in some detail.
- John Leyden at the UK-based Channel Register also reviewed the beta version on 6/24/09 in a story entitled “.MS no-frills security scanner gets thumbs up in early tests“
As more reviews appear on this product I’ll provide pointers. Some time soon, I’ll come back to this software to talk about my own observations and experiences. Stay tuned
OK, take note: the posting date for this blog is 9/25/2009. Now, take a look at this picture:
As I was poking around on TechNet looking for refreshed content related to Windows 7 (whose GA date is now less than a month in the offing) I stumbled across this Windows 7: Deployment item. I don’t want to intimate that Microsoft is misrepresenting anything here, nor can I imagine they’ve mastered time travel among their many patented and proprietary technologies. Instead, I have to speculate that somebody, somewhere goofed somehow and the wrong date field got supplied for this material (and all I can really say for sure is that it’s here on the TechNet site as I’m looking at it on September 25th).
Enough with the humor, already. What you’ll find in this Library element is a roadmap to all kinds of Windows 7 deployment tools and information. Major headings include Application Compatibility, Upgrade and Migration, and Desktop Deployment, with minor headings for the User State Migration Tool 4.0 and the latest version of the Windows Automated Installation Kit (WAIK for Windows 7).
Despite the gaffe on the date, there are some good pointers in here. You’ll probably want to have your laugh, then dig into the various materials linked here. Laugh first, enjoy next!
[Added later on 9/25/09]My latest TechNet Flash just popped into my inbox, and sure enough, Windows 7 is at the top of its coverage. Check out this snippet from that newsletter (it will eventually show up as Volume 11, Issue 21 on the TechNet Flash page, but it’s not there yet: they seem to hang two newsletters behind online).
In poking around the MS Download Center, I observed that Microsoft posted a new, but still-beta version of the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor (9/17/2009). Having run it on a couple of desktops and another pair of notebooks, I don’t see any obvious or even visible differences or changes to this program vis-a-vis the version that appeared in the download center on or about June 15. Given that we now have less than a month to go to reach the Windows 7 GA (general availability) date on 10/22/2009, I’m curious to know when this tool will change from beta to released status.
Drat! I’d kind of hoped that would happen yesterday or today. I’ll keep an eye on this, and let you know when that status changes. In the meantime, this tool does the job reasonably well. You can also visit my “guided tour” of the previous version dated 6/22/2009. Because this tool shows no obvious or apparent changes, it should still give you a pretty good idea of what this latest version of the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor can do, and how it works!
“Back to school” just got some added impetus from Microsoft: for a limited time, students at accredited institutions of higher learning (college or university) can purchase one full-blown copy of either Windows 7 Home Premium or Windows 7 Professional for $29.99. The trade-off appears to be domain support (some schools require or support it, others don’t: the former group needs Professional, while the latter can use Home Premium). The deal is good only until January 3, 2010, and obviously aims at students currently enrolled for the fall semester at a qualifying institution (the Spring 2010 semester generally won’t start until later in January).
The offer is explained on what looks like a pretty slick Silverlight based site at www.win741.com (to cut to the chase, unless you like watching lots of attractive, music driven one-minute videos, click on the BUY block). The 741 in the domain name should probably be understood to mean “one copy of Windows 7 for students” and is a pretty slick bit of text compression. The official offer is presented on a Digital River web page, and uses a domain check on a college/university e-mail address to check eligibility.
Gosh! Nobody’s likely to see a price tag like this on Windows 7 again any time soon. If you’re in school, or know somebody who is, it may be worth looking into and exercising this offer. It’s not only almost too good to be true, it’s also too good to pass up.
As I’m slowly but surely upgrading all of my PC’s to Windows 7 — I’ll keep a few dual-boot notebooks with Vista, and netbooks with XP, just for testing and checking on older OSes — I’m encountering interesting things on my systems right and left. In a recent blog on ViztaView.com, I recount how a bungled BIOS flash cost me the use of my machine during a one-month period when I had to wait for replacement BIOS chip to show up in the mail. It seems that the Asus BIOS protection capabilities for the P5K motherboard are not resilient enough to withstand a completely mangled BIOS, though they are pretty good at dealing with bad settings and suchlike.
With the return of that machine to activity, thanks to a quick replacement of the bad BIOS chip with a good one, that PC roared back into life. But alas, something then caused its built-in Atheros GbE interface to go on the fritz. While I was able to bring the machine back up and begin using it, I quickly realized that although the on-board NIC appeared to be working to some extent (to the point where lights were blinking, both BIOS and Device manager able to recognize the interface, inbound and outbound network activity could even be registered in the IP stack, and commands like PING LOOPBACK or PING <own-IP-address> appeared to be working) the machine had become unable to access the network. To make things interesting, DHCP simply wouldn’t work, though I could manually assign a working IP address and get enough of a configuration working that I became sure the problem did not lie in the IP stack software itself.
After about two-and-a-half hours of sometimes calm and deliberate, sometimes hot and heavy troubleshooting that included OS repair, uninstall/reinstall of the Atheros drivers, disabling of the firewall and other security software, replacement of DHCP auto-configuration for TCP/IP with manual settings, and a romp through my D-Link DIR-655 combo router/WAP/gateway device interface, I came to the conclusion that for whatever reason, the network interface simply wasn’t working. I was able to confirm this an hour or two later, when one of my partners showed up with an AirLink101 Wireless USB adapter (802.11b/g/n, which I’m using with an D-Link DWL2100AP 802.11g WAP).
For this device, Plug’n’Play worked just like it’s supposed to: in under a minute I had a working network connection. I just wish I hadn’t loaned out all three of my wireless USB devices because I could’ve solved the problem much more quickly if I’d had one around to try the old network troubleshooting practice best epitomized as “if the obvious path doesn’t work, try a known good working alternative path.” The AirLink will keep that machine working until I have time to head down to Fry’s to pick a PCI or PCI-e GbE interface for my test machine, which should boost my networking speed noticeably, and should cost me no more than $20-22 (here’s a NIC from TRENDnet that costs a whopping $10).
Next, I’m going to migrate my current production install from my Gigabyte P35T-DQ6 mobo build into a new case, replace that mobo with an Asus P5Q3, substitute a 128 GB SSD for my mirrored 500 GB Samsung drives, and consolidate a bunch of smaller data and archival drives into a single 1 TB Samsung SpinPoint drive. But first, I’ll have move my working files and applications onto the now-operational test machine so I can keep working while the switch is in process. Who knows what other moles to whack I’ll find along that way? Stay tuned, and I’ll let you know!
Long-time Windows guru Ed Bott blogs for ZDNet, and his postings are often sources of great information, tips, and tricks for that OS. His 9/14/09 posting “The Windows 7 upgrade survival guide” is no exception to this rule, and includes seven useful tips to help ease the upgrade process along. Now that I’ve upgraded half a dozen machines myself in the last two weeks, I can attest to the veracity and usefulness of these tips, though some will prove more relevant or germane than others.
Here’s a quick recap of what you’ll find in this short but sweet blog posting:
- Run setup from a flash drive or USB hard drive. These devices are faster than optical drives, and save time on installation normally devoted to reading from optical media.
- Move big data collections off the system drive before starting the upgrade. All this stuff has to be read, indexed, and handled as part of the upgrade process, even though not much happens to such files (especially digital photos, music, movies, and other media files). Copy ’em onto another drive, then delete them from the system drive before you upgrade (you can always copy them back when they’re done, if you like).
- Use the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor and address all compatibility issues before starting the upgrade. Just do it!
- Ditch old and unwanted software. Use Programs and Features or a third-party tool (my fave: Revo Uninstaller) and get rid of stuff you no longer use, no longer want, or no longer need. Not only will this get rid of clutter, it will also speed the upgrade process (which takes time to migrate each application into the Windows 7 runtime environment).
- Upgrade your HD as well as your OS. If you’re feeling cramped for space on your system drive, you might want to replace it before you perform the upgrade. Lay down an image backup on the new drive, and you’ll have more room to work and play after the upgrade completes. If anything goes wrong, the old drive will still work, and can take over for the new one.
- Grab all the drivers before you upgrade. Use a utility such as Driver Detective, DriverAgent, or RadarSync — or your own personal favorite — to grab Windows 7 or Vista drivers for your PC. As Bott observes, you must have a usable network driver at a bare minimum, so you can then use the Internet after the upgrade to fetch whatever else you might need.
- Make a clean image backup after you upgrade. This will provide a pristine image of your new system after the upgrade, and give you a place to go back to later on if something goes haywire with Win7. To make this easy, the OS itself provides image backup capability for all Win7 versions.
That’s about it, and it’s all pretty good advice. If you’re facing Windows 7 upgrade maneuvers, you’ll find these tips helpful and handy.
If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you already know I’ve been struggling with strange and unstable behavior on my primary production PC for over a year now, both under Windows Vista and Windows 7 Ultimate editions. I’ve suspected issues with that machine’s motherboard for some time now (having replaced almost everything else in that system for upgrade purposes or other repairs over that time, it was the only possible culprit left anyway). Windows 7 was finally kind enough to confirm these suspicions this weekend, when I experience a BSOD while trying to open a child window from inside IE 8.0 to follow a link. Here’s the Problem Details report that Windows 7 provided, along with a memory dump (whose contents I omit for brevity’s sake):
A little research on this error for Windows 7 turned up numerous hits, of which the most interesting was this message thread from social.technet.microsoft.com, where the 4 at the end of the string indicates “an uncorrectable PCI Express error occurred” (as cited from “usasma, MVP, answerer” along with a snippet from the Windows Debugging Tools Help file). Because I know I’m using the latest and greatest driver for my relatively new Nvidia GeForce GTX 275 graphics card (and I even had trouble with the two graphics cards that preceded it over the last year), I’m pretty sure that my suspicions of motherboard trouble have now finally been confirmed.
I’ve got an Asus P5Q3 motherboard ensconced in its box not 10 feet from where I’m sitting right now, and a new case into which I’d like to move the other innards of this machine along with that now-necessary replacement item. All I have to do is find the time to tear this system apart and rebuild it from scratch (a good, long day’s work, if experience is any guide). I’m waiting for a replacement BIOS for my temporarily trashed test machine which I will then press into service as a temporary production unit, while I rebuild this puppy from the ground up — later this week, probably. Wish me luck, and stay tuned for further news on this front.
I got back from a business trip this morning to learn that my Mom, aged 90, passed away peacefully in her sleep last night. She spent the last year and a half of her life in an assisted living facility in Fairfax County, VA, after living with me and my family for just over two years in the home (with “mother-in-law wing”) we had built to care for her in her declining years.
I’d like to take this opportunity to remember her to all of you. She was a ferociously intelligent woman who did her best to take care of her family, and I’ll always be grateful to her for ensuring that I got such a good education. She graduated first in her high school class, and also at the top of her class in nursing school. She served in WWII with distinction, and attained the rank of Major in a mobile army surgical hospital, following the Army through Northern Africa, into Sicily, and then on to France. When I was a boy, she took a job as the school nurse in the Heidelberg American School system in Germany, in part to keep a closer eye on me and my sister. She always encouraged my love of learning and language, and I owe much of what I am today to her care and attention. I will miss her terribly.
Mom was also a multiple cancer survivor: after being diagnosed with colon cancer in 1987 and learning to live with a colostomy (at which point she quit smoking), she was then diagnosed with lung cancer in 1989 (at which point she had the upper lobe of her left lung removed). She managed to survive for 20 years after those medical misadventures, and remained cancer free until her dying day. If anybody wants to remember her, I’d ask them to make a donation to the American Cancer Society in her name.
It’s been long enough since I started using Windows Vista that I’d forgotten the usual pattern of Windows Update postings on a typical “Patch Tuesday” (the first Tuesday of each month is when Microsoft releases all in-cycle security updates, plus a monthly reworking of the Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool and the Office Outlook Junk Email Filter) early in the OS lifecycle. This morning’s updates came as a pleasant surprise (though I did have to turn off the 31 language packs that always show up early in each lifecycle).
Even more pleasantly surprising, a quick look at my complete update history so far shows only seven “real Windows updates” amidst a list of 34 total items — most of the others are Office related, though some driver updates (my Nvidia GeForce GTX 275, Dell 968 AIO printer, and built-in RealTek GbE interface), Windows Defender definitions (no longer used on my machine), and a few other odds’n’ends also appear.
Of course, it can’t stay this way for too long, and only time will tell if the relative incidence of security updates is lesser or greater than Vista at the same times in their relative lifecycles. At this point, however, the relative lack of clutter is exhilarating (though the number of MS Office 2007 updates portends what we’re likely to see for Windows 7 in a couple of years). With only the Silverlight update (KB 974331) counting as a real security update for Windows 7 Patch Tuesday activity so far, and a couple of IE 8 updates in the mix, we haven’t really seen a significant vulnerability in Windows 7 to date. Alas, history also teaches that it’s just a matter of time before Windows 7 adds more security updates as it also becomes a more regular target for exploits, and a more intense focus for the search for vulnerabilities.
One interesting change in interface and behavior in Windows 7 is the addition of the Devices and Printers option in the Start menu (depicted below). This new facility not only shows you the devices installed on or known to your Windows 7 PC, it also provides a staging area where it is easy to add new devices or printers to your PC. As you can tell from the following screen shot, I’ve already made serious and interesting uses of this new facility.
Most of the devices and printers present appear courtesy of Plug and Play as soon as they’re attached to your PC. Others require some effort to make their appearance (such as the HP LaserJet 4/4M PS currently attached to my wife’s PC, about which I wrote in these blogs: Interesting Antics and First Casualty of Windows 7).
Until recently, however, I think I really lacked a conceptual framework to help me understand Devices and Printers more thoroughly in the Windows 7 environment, despite mucking about with this utility for over six months now. Thankfully, this has now been rectified thanks to a length and detailed posting to the Windows 7 Team Blog entitled “The Device Experience in Windows 7-UPDATED” by Jack Tao (posted courtesy of Brandon LeBlanc, most recently on 9/1/2009). This white-paper-like posting explains the design goals for the Devices and Printers Control Panel item, and also digs into the Device stage shown in the next screencap.
Enhancements here include multiple device interaction models based on device type and capabilities, including automatic icon appearance for devices in the taskbar when connected, with jump lists to match frequently selected tasks (photo upload/mangement for cameras, music upload/download from mobile players, address book synchronization with smartphones, and so forth). In the background an XML Schema drives visible options and behaviors, and makes it easy for developers to provide heavily customized stages for their devices, and straightforward for users to put them to work. Here’s an example of what happens when I hook up my son’s low-res digital camera up to my Windows 7 PC via USB cable:
After I select an item from this menu, a wizard guides me through photo upload from camera to PC for storage, printing, editing, or whatever. Same thing goes for devices of other types, in that options provided match typical tasks a user might wish to perform with said device. Dig into Tao’s article for more details on how this works, and what it can do (along with some nice diagrams about how the staging process works). It’s definitely worth a read!