Windows Enterprise Desktop

July 28, 2009  3:04 PM

Migrating to Vista…or Windows 7?

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

I’m a long-time fan of Microsoft watcher Mary-Jo Foley’s blog on ZDnet entitled “All about Microsoft.” It’s usually informative, sometimes entertaining, and often thought-provoking, as with her recent July 23 (2009) blog The Scarlet V: What’s a Vista business user to do? The blog itself raises some interesting points, but it’s the Talkback discussion — where users share their comments, views, and rants — that really makes this particular posting so interesting.

Foley reminds us of Microsoft’s changing stance on enterprise migration to Vista, as follows (the points recounted are hers, the paraphrasing mine):

  • Until recently, MS told enterprises to keep migrating to Vista if said migration was underway; otherwise enterprises should skip Vista and go straight to Windows 7
  • In May (2009) MS pretty much clammed up about Vista and hasn’t said much new about migrating, pro, con, or indifferent

This led MJF to Mike Angiulo, General Manager for Microsoft’s Planning and PC Ecosystem team (man, wouldn’t you love a title like that? 😉 to whom she posed the question about whether or not MS is abandoning its Vista users. Short version of his response: 1. No we’re not. 2. Lots of good stuff for Windows 7 will also work for Vista. FWIW, Dell is also taking a similar line, and the USAF is continuing its Vista deployment, with 90,000 desktops and notebooks already deployed, but is also moving as quickly as possible to get on the Windows 7 bandwagon.

The talkback section includes 150 postings as I write this and they make for fascinating reading. The attitudes span everything from “Vista sucks” and “Microsoft is the spawn of the devil” to “Vista is rock solid, and poses no problems for my organization” with many conceivable intermediate points of view also represented. The fragmented state of the Vista user base is clearly represented, and among those actually interested in using MS operating systems, I see a trend for most enterprise users to favor a move to Windows 7 as soon as it makes sense to do so. Some enterprise users say they won’t move until SP1 comes out, while others say they’ll wait for SP2. Microsoft already knows the road to widespread adoption is long and full of potholes. Let’s just hope that Windows 7 helps to improve road conditions rather than making them worse, as was an all-too-common perception for Vista until SP1 came along.

But only time will tell. Stay tuned!

July 24, 2009  2:34 PM

Soon, the real Windows 7 fun begins!

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

OK, so now OEMs may have the Windows 7 RTM and MSDN and TechNet will have it on August 6 (in exactly two weeks, as I write this blog). In the very near future, the breathless hype and excitement of a new release will be replaced by the hard work of learning how to install, package, and deploy that new OS in a workplace setting. Of course, my first big question is “Will the MS servers be ready and able to handle the download traffic as everybody with a TechNet or MSDN subscription tries to grab licenses and keys on 8/6?” I can’t also help but speculate that there will be a kind of “birthwatch” in effect, as would-be downloaders keep checking in on the download areas on both sites to see if the files and keys are ready for access or not. As I recall, when the final version of Vista SP2 hit MSDN, it didn’t actually become available until mid-afternoon the day it was made available. It will be interested to see how the initial proferring plays out, and how heaviliy loaded the MS servers will be.

Longer term, though, I suspect there’ll also be lots of interest in and traffic toward the various Microsoft deployment tools that can accommodate Windows 7. Interested enterprise desktop professionals will surely want to check out (and keep an eye on) the Microsoft Solution Accelerators Web page, where they will find links to the following items of special interest:

  • Microsoft Deployment Toolkit 2010: This is still in Beta (Beta 2, actually) and it looks like access may be limited, so keep an eye on this item because it will surely change to production status around the Windows 7 GA date (10/22/2009).
  • Microsoft Operations Framework 4.0: Developing guidelines and documents on Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 deployment efforts. Access to this beta is still wide-open and may be worthwhile for enterprise admins.
  • Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit: Includes tools and guidance to assess IT infrastructures and plan for introduction of Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2, among numerous other items of potential interest. This beta is still wide-open, too.

Here are some other items of related and potential interest as well, already widely available:

  • You can already download the MED-V V1 Planning, Deployment, and Operations Guide, and the toolkit itself should also be available by the GA date (but only to MS Assurance customers). Still some interesting into in here, however.
  • The TechNet Library includes an interesting offering  entitled “What’s New in Deployment Tools” that includes coverage of the new Windows Automated Installation Kit (WAIK) and in Windows Deployment Services.
  • The MS Download Center offers a document entitled “Windows 7 Desktop Deployment Overview.”
  • You’ll also want to dig into the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (requires a subscription through the Microsoft Volume Licensing program), if that’s relevant to your enterprise.
  • The TechNet Deployment Tools Technical Reference is a great place to go looking for information on all the various tools and capabilities that MS provides to help admins automate Windows deployment efforts.

There’s plenty more where all those things came from, but this will be more than enough to get you started, and to help you zero in on the items most likely to do your enterprise some good during upcoming deployment planning and implementation efforts. Enjoy!

July 23, 2009  3:31 AM

Download Windows 7 from MSDN on August 6

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

According to long-time Windows maven Mary-Jo Foley, Windows 7 RTM will be downloadable from MSDN on August 6. For all the various access points and related dates, see her “Who will get the Windows bits and when?” blog for 7/21/2009, or go straight to the source and see Brandon LeBlanc’s Windows 7 Team Blog “When will you get Windows 7 RTM?” instead. RTM has actually occurred now: as of 4:40 pm EDT today, Windows 7 was released to manufacturing. OEMs should get it in the next day or two, and both TechNet and MSDN subscribers can begin Windows 7 downloads on Thursday, August 6.

I for one am entirely jazzed about this immanent prospect. My primary production machine is currently running Vista SP2 and it’s giving me fits: Event Viewer isn’t working, Vista says I’m not connected to a network even though I’m on the Internet at this very second, can see all of my LAN resources, and make TCP/IP stand up and bark just like usual. The litany goes on, but if you really want to read about all of my recent troubles check out my ViztaView blog “Current List of Unsolved Vista Mysteries.”

Suffice it to say that I’m on the brink of having to blow away my system drive and rebuild Windows anyway, just in the names of sanity and stability. For some perverse and perhaps ineluctable reason, I want the new OS on my production machine to be Windows 7. Looks like Microsoft has ensured that I will get my wish in just a little over two weeks. I’m not exactly holding my breath in the meantime–and I do make nightly backups–but I’m hoping like heck my desktop doesn’t blow up between now and then. This does help keep things interesting, and definitely makes me pay attention to what I’m doing, and how I’m using my machine.

Have a good reason to be wishing and hoping for Windows 7 yourself? Post a comment here and let me know about it, too.

July 21, 2009  1:25 PM

Serious Sign of Windows 7 Intent

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Although what I am about to report may seem irrelevant to Windows Enterprise Desktop concerns at first blush, I plan to argue otherwise — and of course, that’s why I’m reporting about a current beta and planned upcoming release for Windows Home Server Power Pack 3. It’s popped onto my radar for this blog because of its planned support for Windows 7 and the time frame involved.

To understand why this might be of more than just passing or trivial interest, let me sketch some background. Windows Home Server is a special, pared-down version of Windows Server 2003 to which Microsoft has added drive replication, volume spanning, and comprehensive backup and media streaming support. It’s designed to run on small, self-maintaining boxes in households to add centralized backup and media support services for small-scale home networks.

By now, I hope you’re asking “What does any of this have to do with enterprise desktops?” The answer is: “Nothing directly, but recent prior history teaches that MS is taking Windows 7 very, very seriously.” More explanation: since its initial announcement in January, 2007, Windows Home Server (WHS) has seen two Power Packs released so far. Each of them took about a year to develop, beta test, and release. Power Pack 2 hit the streets in late March, 2009, and the beta for Power Pack 3 is already avaialable for download as of July 9, 2009 — less than three and a half months later.

I submit this is very strong evidence that Microsoft is granting Windows 7 extraordinary focus and resources, and determined to ensure its success in every way possible. Whereas they’ve been lax about catching WHS up with current tools and technologies in the past, preferring to wait for the Power Pack roll-ups to incorporate (relatively) new functionality when and as they get released, this time they’re aiming for day-and-date support for Windows 7 on the General Availability date.

To me this shows a very strong commitment to Windows 7. Strong enough, in fact, that they’re breaking with precedent and prior history in their updates to this increasing popular home product. MED-V already shows us that they’re planning strong support for enterprise deployment of Windows 7, and I expect we’ll see more tools, training, and information to help early adopters obtain a positive and successful deployment experience. Now, if MS could only do something to bump up the numbers reported in eWeek’s Microsoft Watch that only 17% of enterprises plan to migrate to Windows 7 within 12 months of its release…

July 17, 2009  3:39 PM

Good News on Windows 7 RTM for Early Adopters

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

If, like me, you’re panting with lust to lay hands on a copy of Windows 7 RTM so you can start building production PCs using the latest — and indeed, possibly also the greatest — Windows ever, I may just be able to share some good news with you. Last Tuesday, indefatigable product marketing manager Brandon LeBlanc posted some very interesting information to his Windows 7 Blog. I’ll quote one section from that blog in full, because it covers the bases for most, if not all, of the readers of this enterprise desktop blog:

Once Windows 7 is complete, how do I get it?

The answer depends on who you are:

  • MSDN & TechNet Subscribers: Subscribers will be able to download the final version of Windows 7 a few weeks after we announce RTM.
  • Volume License (VL) Customers: Customers with Software Assurance for Windows will be able to download the final version of Windows 7 Enterprise a few weeks after we announce RTM. As announced today by Bill Veghte during his WPC09 keynote, customers without Software Assurance will be able to purchase Windows 7 through Volume Licensing on September 1st.
  • Consumers, Enthusiasts, & Beta Testers (Everyone else): The retail version of Windows 7 will be available in stores October 22nd. If you pre-ordered Windows 7, it should be delivered sometime around the October 22nd timeframe (depends on the retailer). You can pre-order Windows 7 today through many online retailers like the Microsoft Store.
  • On New PCs: OEMs are expected to start shipping new PCs with Windows 7 pre-installed on them around October 22nd.

Of course, this begs the inevitable question “When will Windows 7 RTM be released?” All LeBlanc is willing to say in this blog, and all that Microsoft will tell anybody on the record is “When it’s ready.” Some time during or before the end of July looks pretty likely for the actual RTM itself, which means Windows RTM versions for those with the right subscriptions or volume license agreements (and OEMs, of course) some time during or before the middle of August. Or, as Jerry Pournelle would say “Real Soon Now.”

Can’t wait!

July 15, 2009  1:51 PM

More on Patch Tuesday, July 2009

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

OK, so today is Wednesday, so that means Patch Tuesday has now come and gone, and the finalized version of the Security Bulletin Summary for July 2009 is now available. In addition to six updates, there’s also an updated version of the Windows Malicious Software Removal tool included amidst this month’s offerings. The following table provides some details on the security-related patches and updates, with links to their underlying individual security bulletins.

Bulletin ID Rating Target Remarks
MS09-023 Critical Microsoft Windows 2 privately reported remote code execution items in the Windows Embedded OpenType (EOT) Font Engine
MS09-028 Critical Microsoft Windows 2 vulnerabilities (1 public, 2 private) in Microsoft DirectShow; opening a specially formatted QuickTime media file can lead to remote execution
MS09-032 Critical Microsoft Windows Resolves privately reported vulnerability already being exploited in the MS Video ActiveX control; could lead to remote execution upon viewing a specially crafted Web page in IE with a malicious ActiveX control
MS09-033 Important Virtual PC Virtual Server Privately reported vulnerability allows arbitrary code to be executed, or complete control taken for an affected guest OS
MS09-031 Important ISA Server 2006 Privately reported vulnerability could allow elevation of privilege upon successful impersonation of administrative account on ISA server configured for Radius One time Password (OTP) authentication and authentication delegation with Kerberos Constrained Delegation
MS09-030 Important Microsoft Office Publisher Privately reported vulnerability could allow remote code execution if a user opens a specially crafted Publisher file; could lead to complete control over affected system.

The critical Windows related items will probably need to be addressed as soon as possible; the other important items may or may not apply to all enterprise situations, but will surely apply to some. For those outfits, the possibility of remote code execution or outright system takeover suggests that they, too, should be addressed quickly.

FWIW, I was able to download and install all these patches on several Vista systems late last night/early this morning without any difficulties. Alas, the same is not true for an optional update to one of my systems Realtek 8111B PCIe GBE Ethernet controller: after three attempts to install same, I’m still scratching my head and wondering why it won’t work. And wouldn’t you know it: the Realtek Web site doesn’t have an update newer than May 2009, while this one is dated for earlier in July. Sigh.

July 13, 2009  2:58 PM

Patch Tuesday Back to Normal for July ’09

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

According to the most recent Security Bulletin Advance Notification for July, things are a little less hectic this month (6 bulletins, 3 for Windows, 3 for other products) than they were last month (11 bulletins total). What we see this time around is a bit less threatening and potentially dangerous overall, which is not to say that you can simply skip this month’s go-round: all three of the Windows bulletins earn Critical ratings for remote code execution and should therefore be handled immediately. Two affect most Windows operating systems, and the third affects all DirectX versions from 7.0 to 9.0c for most Windows operating systems.

The other three bulletins are rated important. One affects MS Virtual PC versions 2004 and 2007, plus Virtual Server 2005 R2. Another affects ISA 2006 versions, and the third affects Microsoft Publisher from the Office 2007 Suite. The first two involve elevation of privilege, while the third involves remote code execution.

Other items for the upcoming patch release include a new version of the MS Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool, and other items may appear in the official release bulletin when it’s published on Tuesday, July 14.

July 10, 2009  4:34 PM

Windows Internals (Inside Windows) Gets Welcome Update

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel
Late last week, a small but heavy box showed up at my door. I’d long since forgotten bugging Mark Russinovich last December for a review copy of the latest edition of his Windows internals book: Windows Internals: Including Windows Server 2008 and Windows Vista, 5th edition, co-authored with David A. Solomon and Alex Ionescu, but there it was in my hot little hand. In my odd free moments since then, I’ve been plowing through this 1,260 page book to see what’s new and interesting — though I obviously haven’t had time to read it in its entirety. Keep that caveat in mind as I extoll this book’s many treasures.
Cover shot from Amazon Books

Cover shot from Amazon Books

Here’s another caveat: the primary audience for this book is Windows system developers. They’re the people who will get the most out of its contents, and my lack of in-depth Windows system programming experience probably explains why my eyes glaze over and my mind goes on vacation as I look at certain sections in the book.

That said, there’s a tremendous wealth of information on Windows in here (and from what I can tell, it applies nearly 100% to Windows 7 as well as Windows Vista, thanks to relatively little changes in the kernel and other system facilities between these two most recent desktop Windows versions).  In particular, these are the topics that I found most interesting and illuminating as I flipped through the book for a first quick pass over its contents (I’ll report again from time to time as I dig more deeply into its contents):

  • Chapter 2 System Architecture: learned a thing or two about device drivers, and how to find them, in this chapter.
  • Chapter 3 System Mechanisms: the best coverage of the MS Hyper-V Hypervisor I’ve ever seen anywhere.
  • Chapter 4 Management Mechanisms: as in previous versions, this chapter provides some of the best information about how the Windows registry is structured, and how it works, that I’ve ever seen. Worth the price of admission all by itself.
  • Chapter 5 Processess, Threads, and Jobs: Here’s a tour-de-force illustration of Mark Russinovich’s knowledge of Windows internals, and how nicely the SysInternals tools work to reveal their inner workings.
  • Chapter 6 Security: Provides a killer walkthrough of how Windows performs access checks and uses security identifiers (SIDs) for accounts, groups, and logons. Lots of good detail here on security minutae.
  • Chapter 7 I/O System: includes great sections on Windows Plug and Play (PnP) operation and facilities, and ditto for ACPI/Power Manager.
  • Chapter 8 Storage Management: Best discussions of both BitLocker Drive Encyrption and Volume Shadow Copy Servive (VSS) I’ve seen anywhere.
  • Chapter 9 Memory Management: Another embarrassment of riches, and also worth the price of the book all by itself, especially the sections on physical memmory limits, working sets, and SuperFetch/ReadyBoost/ReadyDrive.
  • Chapter 11 File Systems is worthwhile because it pulls info on all the Windows file systems together in one place and because it provides lots of great information on NTFS in particular.
  • Chapter 12 Networking: lots of good information on the Windows IP stack, NetBIOS, MUP, NLA, LLTD, NAT, and more. I need to spend more time with this chapter to savor it more fully.
  • Chapter 13 Startup and Shutdown: Great excursions into BIOS boot processes, BCD and Bootmgr, EFI boot stuff, plus more on ReadyBoot/ReadyBoost interaction. The great, great section on troubleshooting boot an startup problems is another gem.
  • Chapter 14 Crash Dump Analysis: the second on “The Blue Screen” includes a list of the top 30 stop codes for Windows Vista, and included all my old familiars, for sure. The in-depth discussion of crash dump analysis includes basic and advanced sections, and is also sure to reward further study.

Anybody who works with Windows regularly and needs to understand its inner working will find their investment in this book amply repaid. It is worth every bit of the $38 to $70 you’ll pay for it by shopping online. My only beef about this book is that it’s a monster, at over 1,200 pages and 4.4 pounds, it’s a bit too heavy to read in your lap or hold in your hands for very long. You’ll want to plant this puppy on a table to flip through its many useful bits of information.

Here’s a full citation: Mark Russinovich, David A. Solomon, and Alex Ionescu: Windows Internals: Including Windows Server 2008 and Windows Vista, Fifth Edition, Microsoft Press, 6/17/2009, ISBN-13: 978-0735625303.

July 8, 2009  4:32 PM

Blog Gets New Name

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

In case you didn’t notice, I’ve retitled this blog with TechTarget’s blessing. Whereas it used to be called the Vista Enterprise Desktop blog, what with the looming release of Windows 7 and continuing interest in Windox XP on enterprise desktops, I thought it made sense to broaden the scope to include Windows and bring in all those various versions. I was taking that license anyway, so now it’s “official.”

Interestingly, the scope for this blog may need to go beyond Windows. I heard a news story on NPR this morning entitled “Google Operating System to Challenge Microsoft,” wherein the long-standing rumor that Google was planning to release an operating system for netbook use finally became news. Apparently, the work is based on the Chrome Web browser, and is going to be called the Google Chrome OS according to the announcement posted last evening on the Google Blog. Here’s a brief snippet from same that lays things out:

Google Chrome OS is an open source, lightweight operating system that will initially be targeted at netbooks. Later this year we will open-source its code, and netbooks running Google Chrome OS will be available for consumers in the second half of 2010. Because we’re already talking to partners about the project, and we’ll soon be working with the open source community, we wanted to share our vision now so everyone understands what we are trying to achieve.

Speed, simplicity and security are the key aspects of Google Chrome OS. We’re designing the OS to be fast and lightweight, to start up and get you onto the web in a few seconds. The user interface is minimal to stay out of your way, and most of the user experience takes place on the web. And as we did for the Google Chrome browser, we are going back to the basics and completely redesigning the underlying security architecture of the OS so that users don’t have to deal with viruses, malware and security updates. It should just work.

Google Chrome OS will run on both x86 as well as ARM chips and we are working with multiple OEMs to bring a number of netbooks to market next year. The software architecture is simple — Google Chrome running within a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel. For application developers, the web is the platform. All web-based applications will automatically work and new applications can be written using your favorite web technologies. And of course, these apps will run not only on Google Chrome OS, but on any standards-based browser on Windows, Mac and Linux thereby giving developers the largest user base of any platform.

This should be pretty interesting. And now that I own a couple of netbooks — a Dell Mini 9 and an Asus Eee PC 1000HE — I can hardly wait to try this out when it becomes more broadly available.

July 6, 2009  5:14 PM

The Ultimate Win7 Upgrade Deal? Apparently not…

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Just when the Vista to Windows 7 migration path appears relatively smooth and clear, up pops another bump in that road to make life interesting. This time, there’s been one very emotional and highly negative reaction to Microsoft’s recent pre-release promotional pricing extravaganza for Windows 7 Upgrades ($49.99 for Windows 7 Home Premium, and $99.99 for Windows 7 Professional through July 11). There’s apparently no such deal for Vista Ultimate in the works, despite Microsoft’s having charged a premium price for that product, in part based on promises for extras that were supposed to include “cutting-edge programs, innovative services, and unique publications” not available to owners of other Windows Vista versions. In actual practice, that turned out to be the fun but not terribly valuable Microsoft Hold ‘Em game (developed for MS by Mobicore), the MS Tinker game and related themes and backgrounds, and some interesting but not terribly valuable animated themes and backgrounds. No publications and no services at all, with applications and stuff that was arguably far from anyone’s idea of the cutting edge.

This has caused a firestorm of furor among Windows Vista Ultimate owners, many of whom have opined that MS should give them a free upgrade to Windows 7 Ultimate by way of apology for failures to deliver on the aforementioned promises of valuable extras and add-ons. I can understand this sentiment, but have to observe that while charity may now be Bill Gates only and primary avocation, charity has never been a priority for the company he founded. Frankly, I don’t see this happening, though it would be nice if MS did relent, and offer a half-price ($160?) upgrade from Windows Vista Ultimate to Windows 7 Ultimate on more or less the same terms as what they offered for Home Premium and Business/Professional versions.

To enterprise users and admins, however, this whole phenomenon is just a sideshow. For them the real unanswered questions are “How much will volume licensing for Windows 7 cost? What kinds of cost differentials apply to Windows 7 Business versus Windows 7 Enterprise?” These are the burning queries that must be answered to help them figure out when it makes sense to switch over to Windows 7, and how much that move is going to cost.

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