Windows Enterprise Desktop

May 29, 2009  7:12 PM

Post SP2-Gotcha Rears Its Ugly But Interesting Head

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Previously aswoon with relief at a more stable system after installing Vista SP2, I failed to notice an interesting dilemma: although I can access local area network resources, and have no trouble using the Internet, Vista thinks I’m not connected to any network. This leads to a very interesting display in Windows Explorer, in fact:

Although ED-PC isn't connected to the network, it sees everything else out there!

Although ED-PC can see all local machines, Vista says not connected

I conducted a little research into this situation and learned that this problem has persisted since Microsoft introduced SP1 for Vista — I guess I should be grateful it waited this long to bite one of my systems — and that there’s no easy fix available. I tried leaving, then rejoining my local workgroup, rebuilt my TCP/IP protocol stack, uninstalled then reinstalled my NIC driver — all to no avail. Looking over the various fixes others have attempted — see this discussion on the MSDN Forums entitled “Windows Vista – LAN working properly, but Vista says I’m not connected,” for example — I see I hit most of the high points. But since nobody else has been able to fix this, either I supposed I shouldn’t feel so bad.

Nonetheless, I can’t help it. It bugs me no end when things don’t work like they’re supposed to, and I can neither fix them nor figure out why or how they broke. Maybe that’s what keeps me banging my head against Vista after all these years, eh?

May 27, 2009  4:14 PM

Windows Vista SP2 Hits the Download Center

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

With a publication date of 5/25/2009, Windows Vista Service Pack 2 actually hit the Microsoft Download Center yesterday (5/26/2009). It’s official title is “Windows Server 2008 Service Pack 2 and Windows Vista Service Pack 2 – Five Language Standalone DVD ISO (KB948465).” Not only does this image roll up Windows Server 2008 and Windows Vista in a single ISO image file; it also includes both 32- and 64-bit versions of both OSes. The following Vista versions are also included:

  • Windows Vista Business
  • Windows Vista Enterprise
  • Windows Vista Home Basic
  • Windows Vista Home Premium
  • Windows Vista Ultimate

On the Server side, 32- and 64-bit versions for standard processors are available, plus a version for Itanium-based systems as well.

There’s also a TechNet article available dated 5/26/09, entitled “Service Pack 2 for Windows Server 2008 and Windows Vista.” This is where most people will want to go to grab their downloads, because you can get separate versions here for ISO (the preceding item in the initial paragraph), but also separate links for x86, x64, and ia64 (Itanium) versions are also available. You’ll also find a link here to the Windows Service Pack Blocker Tool, and a FAQ that describes its recommended uses.

It will still be a while before Windows Update provides automatic access to Windows Vista SP2, so you may want to give the TechNet link above a visit in the meantime.

May 24, 2009  6:26 PM

Microsoft Office 2010 Technical Preview Leaks

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Last week, starting May 15, the pre-release version of the forthcoming MS Office 2010 started to make its way into a select group of invited participants as part of Microsoft’s Technical Preview (whose official pre-release date isn’t until July). As has become typical for such previews, no sooner did this happen than screenshots of the new product began appearing online. Also as typical, Malaysian site ArsTechnica was the first to scoop this information, with their release on May 15 of a comprehensive set of screenshots, which have since been removed at the request of the Microsoft legal department. That said, CNET still has a pretty comprehensive set available as of May 24, but who know if they’ll still be there by the time you look for them.

What emerges is an installation process that’s more like the one for Office 2007 than it differs from that sequence, but where lots of details about look and feel have changed, and where more elements than ever before are present in the Enterprise version. There’s a bit more of a Windows 7 theme to the product, with the use of large icons and screen layouts reminiscent of the new OS everywhere. There is also quite a bit more network smarts in the suite, with more advanced options for content sharing, access control, and the ability to create PDF outputs. You can also choose to hide the whole Ribbon at the top of the screen, when you’re trying to maximize text viewing or input area on screen (this will be handy for those hardy enough to use Office on a netbook PC).

There are some amusing aspects to the preview itself (“Send a smile” for positive feedback, “Send a Frown” for negative). Outlook 2010 gets a bit of a makeover that looks to be for the better, with more intelligent Ribbon integration through its own explicit tab (instead of a top-left Window button). New elements include InfoPath Designer and a SharePoint Workspace, with reworked icons for all suite components.

It looks like this will be an interesting release for the leading enterprise productivity suite. I’ll be curious to keep up with — and report on — “push” installation capabilities, and other enterprise-focused features and capabilities. So far, news on this front is pretty non-existent.

May 22, 2009  4:40 PM

Vista SP2 Push Still Some Ways Out

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Although Microsoft released Windows Vista SP2 to manufacturing (RTM) on April 29, and to MSDN and TechNet subscribers in early May, it’s still not available for download elsewhere. As of this morning, neither the Microsoft Download Center nor Windows Update shows hide nor hair for SP2 anywhere. On its Microsoft Update Product Team Blog for May 20 we finally got some news about what’s going on in a posting entitled “Get ready for Vista and Win2k8 SP2.”

According to the MU Team, Vista (and Windows Server 2008, which share a common code base) SP2 “…will be available in the coming weeks on the Download Center (DLC), and also through Windows Update and WSUS.” But according to Nick Clark, by way of Mary Jo Foley, automatic updates for Vista SP2 won’t start getting pushed until June 30, 2009.

Why such a long delay before automatic push? Enterprise users should know this answer better than anybody else. Rolling out any service pack, including SP2, takes prior testing and may involve possible remediation or even a postpone/no-go decision, which in turn takes time. This approach also leaves the door open for some organizations to use the Microsoft Service Pack Blocking Tool to prevent the SP2 update from being applied prematurely.

As for me, I started testing various SP2 versions (including a slipstreamed install for both x86 and x64 versions) a couple of months ago. I liked what I found and saw enough to switch my production units over to SP2 in the last week (thanks to my MSDN subscription), and believe that many others will want to switch over to SP2 as time and opportunity permit. In fact…knock on wood as I write this…I haven’t had a single stability problem with my production machines since the day after installing that service pack (I did, however, have problem during the reboot phase of the install on one of those machines and got tagged in Reliability Monitor for an unexpected shutdown when I had to hit the reset button to get the SP2 install to continue through the reboot phase successfully). Other than that, it’s been surprisingly smooth sailing on the sometimes choppy Vista waters ever since! Look at the “monotonically increasing trend line” in Reliability Monitor since 5/14 (the day after my install on the problem machine).

Starting the day after the install (5/14) an unbroken upward trend.

Starting the day after the install (5/14) an unbroken upward trend.

May 20, 2009  6:46 PM

Unusual AV Package Makes the Scene

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

One of the great joys of writing a blog is that the author gets to choose the topic, no matter how odd, weird, or unusual it might be. Though its relevance to enterprise Vista is, I freely and cheerfully admit, tangential at best I simply had to chime in about the new Klingon anti-virus package from Sophos. I stumbled across this in today’s Security Watch blog from veteran malware researcher and expert Neil Rubenking, did a double-take, checked the article, and ROFL or maybe even LMAO.

Not Klingon script, just phonetic Klingon using the Roman alphabet

Not Klingon script, just Klingon tranliterated into the Roman alphabet

As it turns out this is really just the Sophos Threat Detection Test with interface screens dubbed into Klingon. I have four things to say about this software product (provide yourself with appropriate derisory sound effects for each one, please):

1. Some companies obviously look farther for new markets to exploit than others.
2. The product is a clear testament to the ability to separate UI from underlying functionality.
3. Some software engineers obviously have too much time on their hands.
4. Did April first come late this year?

Even so, it’s a real hoot. Check it out. Perfect for those security-conscious Trekkies on your gift list, too.

May 15, 2009  11:45 PM

Guided Tour: Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

The beta version of the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor is ready for download. You can check it for yourself if you like, but here’s a guided tour through a (slam-dunk) installation and scan. I picked a system already loaded for bear to try this tool on, knowing it would pass the scan,  just to show the outline of the program’s installation and use. Here goes.

1. After downloading the program, run Windows7UpgradeAdvisor.msi

Win7 Upgrade Advisor launch screen

Win7 Upgrade Advisor launch screen

2. Click Next, then click the checkbox to accept the EULA

It only scans your machine.

It's OK to run this beta software: It only scans your machine.

3. Supply an installation target folder, or stick with the default (that’s what I did).

By default the program goes in the Program Files folder hierarchy

By default the program goes in the Program Files folder hierarchy

4. Wait while the program installs itself on your system.

Wait while the program installs (took under a minute on my PC)

Wait while the program installs (took under a minute on my PC)

5. When installation completes, you can close Microsoft Installer.
If you patch .NET regularly, you should be good to go when you click "Close"

6. Next, navigate to Start, All Programs, where you’ll find an entry for Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor Beta. Fire that puppy off!
Heed the admonition, and hook up anything for which you want a driver check before launching the advisor, then click "Start check"

7. As the program runs, you’ll get a circulating progress bar. Whereas the Vista version took about 4 minutes to complete on this computer, the Windows 7 version finished in just under 3.

While the program scans your system and hardware, the progress bar circulates.

While the program scans your system and hardware, the progress bar circulates.

8. When the program finishes you’ll see a summary screen pop up. This one simply indicates I won’t get everything from Windows 7 that I got from Windows Ultimate (thank goodness! ;-).

I can do an in-place upgrade.

From Vista Ultimate (source OS) the only upgrade target is Windows 7 Ultimate: I can do an in-place upgrade.

9. More details on the hardware checks indicate I have a fast enough CPU, sufficient RAM and disk space, and my graphics card can handle Aero.

This system passes all requisites with flying colors!

This system passes all requisites with flying colors!

In future blogs, I’m going to try other systems with the tool, including a modest notebook, a netbook, and an older single-core machine, and I’ll report on those results. This tour should give you a pretty good idea about where to get the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor beta, and how to use it yourself.

May 14, 2009  4:49 PM

Vista SP2 vs. chronic low-grade Vista errors

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Now that I’ve been living with Vista SP2 for three whole days, I’m getting some experience with the new environment on some production machines. I did encounter a situation where SP2 froze at 48% through its Phase 1 (of 3) changes prior to the restart between Phase 2 (before restart) and Phase 3 (post restart), but a reset on the machine caused it to start over with Phase 1, after which the entire remaining process completed successfully. Having made a complete backup before starting, and wondering if the admonition not to power off the PC while in process was as dire as stated, I was both surprised and pleased that the SP application proceeded and succeeded on a second try without having to restore the backup and start over. Is it possible MS has improved its SP application tools?

At any rate, with the SP now in place I’m watching my systems closely for stability and reliability. I’ve also dug into the System and Application logs in Event Viewer to see if some of my chronic and persistent errors have been addressed by the new service pack. Without conducting a complete exhaustive analysis, my observation is that some have been addressed, while some have not.

Here are some details. Prior to the SP2 application, I had a decent-sized laundry list of recurring errors for which I could find no fix, but which also didn’t seem to adversely affect system stability and usability. Here’s a summary table for these items:

Level Source Event ID Remarks
Critical DriverFrameworks-UserMode 10110 A UFD has a flaky driver
Warning Servicing 4374 KB955430 not applicable to my system
Warning Time Service 36 No synchronization occurred in last 24 hrs
Warning Tcpip 4226 Limit of concurrent TCP connect attempts reached
Error HttpEvent 15016 Unable to initialize Kerberos for server side authentication

Of these items, I see some have disappeared, and others have morphed slightly (and more informatively) into altered forms. The time service error remains unchanged (but it always works when I synch manually, so I’m not worried about it). The UFD error code persists, but also gets a new companion code 10111 that explicitly identifies the offending device by name. Because it always works when I plug it in, my workaround here is just to remove the device whenever I finish using it. 4374 (update not applicable) has gone away completely, and 15016 (Kerberos not initializing) shows up only once (it used to appear daily) . 4226 (TCP connect attempts) hasn’t showed up, either, but this usually occurs when I’m using FTP and I haven’t done so since applying SP2. That means I give SP2 a 20-40% improvement score on those “pre-existing conditions.”

As you might expect, however, I also see some new recurring items in the Event Viewer that I didn’t see before applying SP2. I summarize these in the next table:

Level Source Event ID Remarks
Error Service Control Manager 7000 Windows search service failed to start in timely fashion
Error DistributedCOM 10005 Error 1053 when attempting to start WSearch
Error BitLocker-Driver 24620 Volume information on N cannot be read

The DCOM error is one I’ve seen before and relates to Windows Search attempts to index items that are no longer present (hence an empty search target in the error message detail), and ties of course into error 7000 as well. Likewise, Volume N relates to the UFD with the driver problems. All of these are items I can live with (and if I can figure out my search target issue for Windows Search) maybe even do away with.

My final analysis on SP2 for chronic errors: “So far, so good!”

May 11, 2009  5:03 PM

Which format for UFDs?

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

I’m helping to revise a book on Windows 7 right now. By well-known Windows mavens Brian Knittel and Bob Cowart, it’s to be called Windows 7 in Depth (Pearson, 2009, ISBN: 0789741997). In the course of writing the chapter on hard disks, formats, basic and dynamic volumes and so forth, I was forcibly reminded that there are many different formats that work on USB Flash Drives, aka UFDs. And as is usual for good questions of all kinds the answer to the inevitable question: “Which format should I use on my UF?” start with the famous qualification phrase: “That depends…”

I’ll list the formats that work on UFDs in Windows Vista and Windows 7, and explain why you might use each one in the ensuing explanation (for more great information on this topic see GUIDE: FAT16, FAT32, NTFS, or exFAT on USB Flash Drives? in the forums at the excellent Website):

  • FAT16 (aka simply “FAT;” there used to be a FAT12 format once upon a time, too, but it’s not supported in Vista or Windows 7 although I think these systems can probably still read it) offers the best overall cross-platform support for non-Windows or old Windows OSes, and also delivers the best total performance overall. That said, it’s limited to 2 GB volume size (up to 4GB on some OSes, if a 16 KB cluster size is used), with a maximum file size equal to maximum volume size minus file/directory overhead (usually no more than a few hundred bytes). FAT16 works best for UFDs of 2 GB and smaller.
  • FAT32 also offers good cross-platform support, especially on non-Windows OSes (it won’t work on older DOS versions or Windows versions prior to Win95 SR2), and is not subject to the 2/4 GB size limit (it tops out at 32 GB, more than big enough for all but the largest UFDs on today’s market). It offers only moderate to slower overall performance, however, and supports a maximum file size of 4 GB. FAT32 works pretty well on all but the largest (< 32 GB) UFDs.
  • NTFS supports relatively low cross-platform support, and doesn’t work on non-NT based Windows versions, and not at all on DOS (though the NTFSDOS utility from SysInternals can mitigate this to some extent but only for reading the contents of NTFS volumes). It’s very fast for single files, but doesn’t do as well as FAT16 or FAT32 for write activities involving multiple files. It does support ACL based access controls and works with all kinds of encryption technologies, and is far more secure than FAT (Windows 7 supports a Portable BitLocker implementation that lets you encrypt UFD contents for save storage and transport). You must use the Optimize for Quick Removal option on an NTFS formatted UFD, or risk losing data unless you use the “Safely Remove Hardware” applet to dismount it from your PC. NTFS or exFAT are required for UFDs larger than 32 GB, and work well for those who want to use large UFDs for backups.
  • exFAT, introduced with Vista SP1, is basically FAT64. This supports file and volume sizes of 264-1 (16 exabytes), and volumes to match, and raises the ceiling on maximum file entries per directory as well. Vista can’t use exFAT for ReadyBoost, but Windows 7 can. exFAT currently works only in Vista, Windows Server 2008, and Windows 7, and also suffers from slow write speed on multiple files. NTFS or exFAT are required for UFDs larger than 32 GB, and work well for those who want to use large UFDs for backups.

To format a UFD with any of these file systems, insert it into a Vista or Windows 7 PC, right click the drive icon in Windows Explorer, then select the format entry in the resulting pop-up window, to see a display something like this one (it shows the exFAT format selected in Windows Vista).

exFAT appears as an option in the File System pick list.

exFAT is one option in the File System pick list

May 9, 2009  3:17 PM

Bitten by the “Eval” nature of Vista SP2 RC?

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

In my frenzy to test and evaluate Vista SP2 for stability I built myself a test system around the slipstreamed version of Vista x64 SP2 RC available from MSDN for download to subscribers. And while my results were overall positive–FWIW, SP2 seems to add significantly to Vista stability and uptime–it appears that I’m now faced with a painful dilemma about when to scrub the machine and rebuild with the just-released production version.

So, off I go to find the expiration date for the RC. It turns out that whenever one exists, it appears in the “About Windows” information for any Windows release. I scratch my head a bit to figure out how to do this, then run winver at the command line: it does the trick nicely.

The fine print says I have until 4/1/2010 to replace this OS.

The fine print says I have until 4/1/2010 to replace this OS.

Upon seeing the details, I heave a sigh of relief for numerous reasons. First, there’s no compelling reason to act soon, with just under 11 months to go before this OS turns into a pumpkin. Second, there’s every hope that the commercial release of Windows 7 will be out before that date (and I may even be able to perform an in-place upgrade to x64 Windows 7 Professional from this version if the stars smile on me). Third, this being a test machine after all, circumstances (read: new work) may compel me to rebuild this machine for any number of reasons well before the expiration date arrives.

All this said, however, there is a moral to this story: When MS says you shouldn’t install an RC version on production gear, they’re not kidding around. You do have to be willing to bite the bullet sometime after installing one of these versions, and replace the install with something else (that is, a so-called “clean install” that wipes out all the work involved in setting up the machine with the RC and its accoutrement) in its stead. I’m glad that my primary work on this machine consists of building various VMs to use for testing inside Virtual PC 2007. Presumably I need only copy those constituent files to a backup drive, rebuild the underlying system, then replace them in the “My Virtual Machines” folder to keep on using them no matter which version or kind of host OS is running to support them. More on this later, I’m sure…

May 6, 2009  1:31 PM

Microsoft’s MED-V Goes Win7’s “XP Mode” Several Better

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Way back in February I blogged here about Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualization, aka MED-V. In the past few weeks, Microsoft has announced that it will offer a free download to buyers of Windows 7 in the Business, Ultimate, and Enterprise versions called Windows 7 XP Mode. Essentially what this provides is a copy of Virtual PC with a Windows XP SP3 license and install image, so that users can easily build and add an XP-based virtual machine to their toolset, primarily as a platform for legacy applications that won’t work with Vista or Windows 7.

I now understand that XP Mode is a kind of do-it-yourself or roll-your-own version of what MED-V provides as an adminstrator-handled and centrally managed capability for businesses at all scales (though it started with an enterprise target specifically in mind), Microsoft Product Manager Ron Oelgiesser told me yesterday that “even businesses with 100 or 200 users who want to run virtualization” can benefit from MED-V technology. Simply put, it’s designed to allow trained IT professionals (administrators) to design, build, and maintain standard VM images, and to make delivering those images to end users as simple as opening a utility and picking a virtual machine by some readily intelligible name for use (for example “accounts payable” or “call center”). Behind the scenes, the admins are responsible for putting those VM’s together, and updating them as new drivers, updates, and other changes come down the road. Users simply load them and use them as needed, which represents a technique for making good use of virtualization that’s just about as easy as it gets.

From the admin side, things aren’t too shabby either. Microsoft provides a QuickStart guide that shows them how to put VMs together, and test them to make sure they work as desired, then make them available for general access and use with the MED-V client components on end-user desktops. MED-V comes as part of the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack that is only available to customers who sign up for Microsoft Customer Assurance. Best of all, according to Oelgiesser, the incremental cost of adding a MED-V component to an existing Assurance subscription is “less than $10 per seat per year.” Considering that this includes an XP SP3 license on which to run legacy apps, as well as a nifty set of tools for packaging, distributing, and managing VMs, this is a fantastic value.

Thus, even though MS will be giving away the XP Mode components with higher-end Windows 7 licenses, I predict that MED-V will also enjoy considerable adoption and use, even from SMBs. Oelgiesser confirms that MS feels bullish on MED-V as well, and indicates that some adoption for Vista has already begun among existing Assurance program participants. Should be interesting to see how this all turns out, once Windows 7 goes commercial.

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