Windows Enterprise Desktop


March 27, 2019  1:25 PM

AdDuplex Tells Interesting 1809 Story

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel
technology adoption, Windows 10, Windows Upgrades

The March 2019 AdDuplex Report is out, and it tells and interesting and possibly depressing story about Windows 10 1809. The 1809 rollout has been bumpy, to say the least. As 1903 looms ahead, only 26.4% of PCs under the AdDuplex purview are running 1809. Compare this to 1803, which runs on 66.3% of that population. This leads AdDuplex to assert that “Microsoft seems to be giving up on [1809] … in favor of upgrading users straight to the next version.” I agree. It’s also why I say that AdDuplex tells interesting 1809 story.

AdDuplex Tells Interesting 1809 Story.win10dist

Note that 1803 still outweighs 1809 by a 2.5:1 ratio, almost six months after its initial release and subsequent withdrawal.
[Source: AdDuplex. Click image for full-sized view.]

The Data that Drives AdDuplex Tells Interesting 1809 Story

Lots of people, including Paul Thurrott, have raised issues with AdDuplex’s numbers. They rightly observe that those numbers don’t really represent the complete population of Windows users. As AdDuplex itself states “This report is based on data collected from around 5,000 Windows Store apps running AdDuplex SDK v.2 (and higher). The raw data analyzed was collected over the day of March 26th, 2019 (UTC time) unless otherwise stated.” They also note the total PCs involved in this sample is “more than 100,000.”  That’s only a tiny fraction of the 800 M copies of Windows 10 in active use right now (0.0125 %).

Normally, I’d quibble with AdDuplex numbers for those selfsame reasons. But this time, I think they may be onto something valid. That’s because it’s the proportions that matter most, not the absolute numbers. If a majority of Windows 10 users is running 1803, with just over a quarter of them on 1809, this is interesting. It also follows logically that MS would try to upgrade those users to 1903. This lets them skip the apparently still problematic 1809 release along the way.

I’ve been following Windows professionally since 3.11 was released in 1992. Over the past 26 years, I can’t remember too many other Windows releases with a similar slow and unwanted uptake profile. Only Windows ME, Vista, and the original Windows 8.0 release are in this hunt. In my opinion, only Windows ME has had more bad press and more bad cess. This shows an unexpected benefit of the twice-yearly feature upgrade cycle, I guess. That is, no matter how bad or problem-ridden a feature upgrade may be, we don’t have to live with it longer than six months unless we choose to do so.

[Here’s a shout-out to Shawn Brink at TenForums, whose post “AdDuplex Windows 10 Report for March 2019 now available” brought this to my attention. Thanks, guy!]

 

March 26, 2019  10:59 AM

Win10 1903 Policy Handles Automatic Updates and Restarts

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel
Group Policy Editor, Group Policy management, Policy, Windows 10, Windows Updates

For the past few days I’ve been reading about a new Group Policy setting in 1903. Here’s the deal: A new Win10 1903 policy handles automatic updates and restarts. As is sometimes the case, I had a little trouble running the specifics down. Good old Martin Brinkmann, at Ghacks.net, came across with those. Thanks to his excellent description and depiction of the new policy, I was able to find it for myself. Open gpedit.msc, then navigate thusly: Computer Configuration → Administrative Templates → Windows Components → Windows Update. Within that policy folder, you’ll find an entry named “Specify deadlines for automatic updates and restarts” as shown here:
Win10 1903 Policy Handles Automatic Updates and Restarts.gpeitem

Once you know where to look, the policy setting is easy to find, enable, and configure.
[Click image for full-sized view.]

What Win10 1903 Policy Handles Automatic Updates and Restarts Actually DOES

To access this setting, click the link in the middle column that reads “Edit policy setting.” (This is a mock link; it doesn’t actually work.) When you do that the related policy setting window opens as shown below. First, you must click the “Enabled” radio button at the top left, to turn this policy on. Then you can manipulate the settings in the Options: pane at the lower left.

Win10 1903 Policy Handles Automatic Updates and Restarts.options

Once you enable this policy setting, the defaults show up in the Options tab.
[Click image for full-sized view.]

What Are Your Options Here?

You can set the deferral period for quality updates (stuff from WU other than feature updates) anywhere from 2 to 30 days. Ditto for feature updates. The grace period defines an interval between when that update is applied (either kind) and when the device will be restarted, forcibly and automatically. This value may be set anywhere from 0 (immediately following update installation) to 7 days. There’s also a checkbox that reads “Don’t auto-restart until end of grade period” that admins can choose if they’re so inclined.

For smaller businesses that use Windows Update, this group policy could be helpful. Most larger organizations manage their own update intervals and windows quite carefully and closely themselves, however. It’s unlikely to have much impact on organizations with formal change control and related update procedures already in place.

[Note: here’s a shout-out to Martin Brinkmann at Ghacks.net for his  March 21 story entitled “Windows 10 version 1903: new Windows Update policy.” It was the only story on this topic I found online that included all the details necessary to find and play with this new policy setting. Vielen Dank, Herr Brinkmann!]


March 25, 2019  2:06 PM

KB4465065 Offers New Microcode Fixes

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel
firmware update, Windows 10, Windows Updates

On March 19, Microsoft issued a new and comprehensive set of microcode fixes for Intel CPUs. These go back to Ivy Bridge (and perhaps earlier) and address potential issues on all of my PCs. They may do likewise for yours. In fact, KB4465065 offers new microcode fixes for three specific vulnerabilities. These are CVE-2017-5754 [rogue data cache load], CVE-2018-3639 [speculative store bypass] and CVE-2018-3620 [L1 terminal fault]. I’ll show “before” and “after” screencaps from the Get-SpeculationControlSettings applet in PowerShell for the specifics.

KB4465065 Offers New Microcode Fixes.before

The red arrows point to various key state indicators from the Get-SpeculationControlSettings applet prior to installing the latest microcode fixes.
[Click image for full-sized view].

The red arrows point to various key state indicators from the Get-SpeculationControlSettings applet after installing the latest microcode fixes.
Note the extra line of text in the speculative store bypass area, and the enablement of all 3 microcode fixes in the Windows OS.
[Click image for full-sized view].

If KB4465065 Offers New Microcode Fixes, Is That a Good Thing?

There can be a performance impact on some PCs when enabling various microcode fixes. All you can do is to try them out on a test machine, then measure and observe their consequences. If you need to undo those changes, you’ll have to flash a modified firmware onto the affected PC(s). The best way to do that is to make a firmware snapshot before applying KB4465065, so you’ll have something to roll back to if you don’t like the outcomes. See this SuperUser article “Can Intel updates be rolled back?” for more discussion. You’ll need to work with system or motherboard utilities to make UEFI/firmware snapshots as well, and understand how to apply them properly. Only then can you undo those changes.

For information on downloading and using the Get-SpeculationControlSettings applet, please consult the PowerShell Scripting center. You’ll find what you need in an item entitled “Speculation Control Validation PowerShell Script” (it includes a download link, and instructions on how to use this tool).

The View from Up Close and Personal

I have installed and am using this fix on a variety of machines include one Ivy Bridge PC, three Haswell PCs, and other, newer Intel Processors (SkyLake and Broadwell). So far, I have experienced no noticeable nor detrimental performance impacts. YMMV, however, as the old acronym goes.

You can grab the update from the Microsoft Update Catalog, or grab a self-installing update (.msu) file for x86 (32-bit) or x64 (64-bit) PCs directly (1809 build, see update catalog for older Win10 versions). Enjoy!


March 22, 2019  1:33 PM

Win10 ComputerName Generation

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

I just got back from a Spring Break mini-vacation yesterday, and am back at work today. When I tried to log in to my Surface Pro 3 remotely just now, I realized a couple of things. One: I couldn’t find the device under its usual moniker. Two: I did eventually identify it as DESKTOP-1D8K0YZ. This is a randomly generated computer name. It appears during routine Win10 installation, when a name isn’t specified in Unattend.xml using Sysprep. “Aha!” I thought to myself, “I forgot to rename the machine when I did that last clean install.” This led to the question “How does Win10 ComputerName generation work, anyway?”

Win10 ComputerName Generation.casefail

In trying to make a “trivial” (case-only) ComputerName change, I learn that such changes are not significant to the rename-computer function in Windows 10. Interesting!
[Click image for full-sized view.]

How Win10 ComputerName Generation Works

As is so often the case with such questions, a Microsoft Hardware Dev Center article provides a good answer. The “ComputerName” article provides good information and guidance on this topic. It starts with this helpful note:

Note   In Windows 10, users can no longer enter a computer name during OOBE as the name is auto-generated. To set a default computer name pre-OOBE, OEMs can configure ComputerName in the Unattend.xml file and specify a name for the computer. After OOBE, end users can change this default computer name after OOBE by changing it in the System Properties page.

Here are some useful facts about what happens during installation, and about what may (and may not) appear in a valid Windows 10 ComputerName string:

  • If no ComputerName is pre-specified (using Unattend.xml), a random computer name is generated.
  • If the install occurs when values for Fullname and Organization (more values from Unattend.xml) are lacking, the ComputerName takes the form “DESKTOP-XXXXXXX” where “XXXXXXX” is a randomly generated string. Note that such strings will always be 15 bytes in length.
  • ComputerName strings can include ASCII or multi-byte characters (such as Kanji, Hangul, and so forth) as long at they don’t exceed 15 bytes in total length.
  • A ComputerName string cannot include spaces or any of the following reserved characters:
    { | } ~ [ \ ] ^ ‘ : ; < = > ? @ ! ” # $ % ` ( ) + / . , * &
  • ComputerName must also be able to be validated through the DnsValidateName function (which means purely numeric strings don’t work, either). See this discussion of the DnsValidateName function for more details.
  • You can use the rename function in the System widget in Control Panel to rename your PC, or simply run the “Rename-Computer -NewName “<newname>” command in an administrative PowerShell session. Either way, you must reboot the OS for the new name to “take.”
  • Though the Rename-Computer command preserves case in ComputerName strings, case doesn’t matter when it comes to resolving or differentiating such strings. I learned this by observation in writing this blog post, as shown in the preceding screen capture.

My good friend and business partner, Kari Finn, has created a YouTube video on how to name a PC during setup that explains a crafty end-around for this apparent Windows 10 limitation. Check it out at “How to name PC at Setup.”


March 15, 2019  1:26 PM

Praising Voidtools Everything

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel
Windows 10, Windows Search

According to its online description voidtools Everything “is a desktop search utility for Windows that can rapidly find files and folders by name.” I’ve been a user and fan of this tool for years. But yesterday, I got a real glimpse of what it can do in the Windows environment. I’m helping a friend who’s readying a new release of his excellent dictionary toolset for MS Office, through his company Lexica Software. In checking out some installation issues, I found myself looking for specific logs, config files and so forth. Shortly thereafter, I found myself also praising voidtools Everything as well. Though I knew the names of files and folders, I didn’t know where they were located. Everything made short work of my search-by-name efforts. It even supports basic Explorer right-click menus so I could open, move and delete items right from the tool itself.

Praising Voidtools Everything.searchresults

Everything helped me determine where the install was placing file. It also took me straight to various database files I needed to delete, and config files I needed to alter.
[Click image for full-sized view.]

Praising Voidtools Everything for Speed and Convenience

Sure, you can use the built-in Explorer/Windows Search capability (and I still do, especially through the Start Menu and Cortana). But Everything is orders of magnitude faster than that facility. It usually starts returning results even before I finish typing my search strings. And it takes me quickly to those results when I want to investigate or manipulate them. And it’s FREE.

I was a regular and enthusiastic Everything user before yesterday. I’m even more enthusiastic now. If you’re a developer, or you work with software testing, forensics, or support, this tool is a true must-have. It is donation ware, and well worth supporting. I just added to my earlier contributions to its developer, David Carpenter, via PayPal. If you try out, use and like this tool, I urge you to do likewise.


March 14, 2019  11:47 AM

Win10 Compact OS for Conventional HDs

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

For those running, or taking care of, Win10 installs that boot from hard disks, here’s a trick worth knowing. In Win10 compact OS for conventional HDs speeds up performance. On machines that boot from SSDs, however, Win10 disables this function by default. That’s because HDs are slow enough that compressing the OS files leans on the CPU for decompression. The speed gain from reading less data from a slower disk offsets the performance loss from decompressing that data before putting it to work. But SSDs are so fast that this trade-off is no longer favorable. That means a slight net performance loss vis-a-vis reading the data uncompressed. But for setups with small SSDs (or slower, flash-based storage devices like eMMC) this command might also prove useful because it does free up storage space and won’t impose a heavy performance penalty.

How to Query Win10 Compact OS Status

One simple command does this nicely at the command line. I show examples from PowerShell, but it works just as well in an Administrative Command Prompt windows (cmd.exe), too. Here’s what the command and its output look like from machines with the OS compacted or not:

Win10 Compact OS.yes

Win10 Compact OS.no

Above: compact OS turned on; Below: not turned on, with explanation.
Anyone with admin privileges can turn it on or off easily.
The /compactOS:query parameter simply checks status.
[Click either image to see full-size view.]

To learn to use the compact command, see the MS Docs compact page. It’s easy to check status, and to turn it on or off. By default, it turns it off for PCs that boot from SSDs. I no longer have any PCs that boot from spinners, so I can’t say if Win10 is smart enough to turn it on by default for such rigs. But it’s easy enough to check — and change. If you’ve got some, either or both activities should pay worthwhile dividends for those PC’s users. Enjoy!


March 13, 2019  11:31 AM

Say Bye Bye Adobe Shockwave

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel
Adobe Shockwave Player, Windows 10

Saw an interesting item from Martin Brinkmann at Ghacks this morning. Seems that Adobe Shockwave is retiring. The final element of this software platform, the Shockwave Player for Windows, hits EOL on April 9, 2019. (See this Adobe FAQ for all the gory details.) Apparently, Shockwave has been unwinding for a while now. Adobe Director (the authoring tool) hit EOL on 2/1/2017, and the Shockwave Player for macOS did likewise on 3/1/2017. When the Windows version follows suit next month, it’s officially time to say bye bye Adobe Shockwave.

Right now, the download page for Shockwave is still accessible. Come 4/9/2019 it will vanish.

After You Say Bye Bye Adobe Shockwave, Then What?

Opinions differ on how users and admins should respond to Shockwave’s immanent departure. Brinkmann observes that “Third-party download sites may continue to offer Shockwave Player for Windows, and users may install the program on Windows devices.” He goes on to say that the company won’t be supporting the platform any more after that “with the exception of Enterprise licenses that may still be valid.” Rhett Jones at Gizmodo is ready to rumble, and recommends that “you should use this moment to delete Shockwave from your computer once and for all.”

I’m of the opinion that Shockwave is neither a blight on the Internet, nor any kind of panacea, either. If you use it, you don’t need to lose it. If you don’t use it, there’s no reason to keep it around. I looked at my collection of 8 PCs and was amazed to find that ALL of them have Shockwave installed. I’ve removed it from a couple of test machines, and will fool around with my usual websites and see if this alters my experience. If not, I’ll happily remove the Shockwave Player for Windows from the remaining half-dozen machines. After Adobe quits maintenance, though, leaving it up and running exposes users to potential security vulnerabilities and possible exploits.

The secret to getting rid of Shockwave is to remember the full name of the product: Adobe Shockwave Player for Windows. You can use Control Panel/Programs and Features or Settings/Apps/Apps & features to uninstall the program. But you have to search for it under the “A” named items, not the “S” named ones. Until I figured that out, I wasn’t able to kill this doddering old wreck of a software platform.


March 13, 2019  11:23 AM

When LinkedIn Posts Fail

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel
browser errors, Troubleshooting, Windows 10

OK, be warned. This post is a little off-topic. But yesterday, as is my usual practice, I started posting links to my recent blogs and such on social media. For some odd reason, I found myself unable to post anything to LinkedIn. “Great,” I thought, “time to clean out the history, cache, and cookies.” Nope. Opened and closed Chrome. No help. Rebooted Windows. Error unchanged. Tried different browsers: Edge, IE and Firefox. Nothing doing. Jumped over to another PC. Still kept getting the same error message (see below). So, in desperation I looked up LinkedIn on Twitter and found the LinkedIn Help squad at @LinkedInHelp. When LinkedIn posts fail, or other problems present with that site, I recommend you do likewise.

When LinkedIn Posts Fail.error

Not the most informative of error messages, but a clear sign that something ain’t right.

When LinkedIn Posts Fail, Ask for Help!

Oddly enough, my poking around on LinkedIn didn’t turn up any ready sources of help there, so I jumped over to Twitter. Almost immediately, I got a response from their obviously active support team. When a couple of quick suggestions produced no positive results, the pro on the other end of the connection sent me a direct URL through which to contact higher-level support. I didn’t get a reply from them, but when I logged onto my PC this morning: Presto! I was once again able to post to LinkedIn.

This is the kind of user experience that a connected digital landscape with concerned and helpful players on that board is supposed to provide. My hat’s off to the crew at LinkedIn for being able to reach out, dig in, and fix something quickly, with little discernible muss or fuss. Wouldn’t it be nice if all problem reports ended on such a happy note? Something for the Windows Team to read and ponder, I hope.


March 11, 2019  10:56 AM

Reboot Still Solves Simple Win10 Problems

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel
Google Chrome, Troubleshooting, Windows 10, Windows Updates

As my day was getting rolling, I got a support request from the Boss. My wife Dina said “I can’t access Chrome. I saw you installed updates yesterday. What’s up?” And so indeed I had. When I went upstairs, I quickly observed she was right. No response when clicking the Taskbar icon for Chrome. Ditto when accessing Chrome through the Start menu. No response when right-clicking the Chrome entry in the Start menu, and selecting “Run as administrator,” either. So of course, that’s when I tried the next panacea in fixing Windows weirdnesses. I restarted the PC, and observed that yet again, reboot still solves simple Win10 problems.

Reboot Still Solves Simple Win10 Problems.chrome

After Update KB4482887, Chrome becomes moribund on my wife’s PC until a second reboot returns it to action.

Why Reboot Still Solves Simple Win10 Problems

When an update is applied, and the restart to cement its changes ditto, lingering traces might still need cleanup. In searching around on Google, I see this kind of issue reported pretty frequently. If a second reboot doesn’t fix an unresponsive application (like Chrome), there are other things you can try, including:

  • Reboot in Safe Mode, then reboot again (a more extreme version of the simple reboot)
  • Clear Cache and Cookies in Chrome (this means Chrome is working again, though)
  • Turn off Hardware Acceleration in Chrome (relaunch after you make this change)
  • Sometimes, more esoteric fixes like installing the Reliable Multicast Protocol or Resetting the Windows Sockets catalog (netsh winsock reset) may help

Great article on all these fixes, and more: Fix Chrome Browser Not Working on Windows 10. Also, this TenForums.com search turns up useful stuff, too: Chrome not working after Windows Update.

For me, it was kind of a nostalgia trip to realize that the spiritual successor to the old “three-fingered salute” (CTRL-ALT-DEL) still helps solve many common problems. I remember it well from the old DOS and early Windows days!


March 4, 2019  6:55 PM

Academics Say MS Updates Confuse Win10 Home Users

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel
Windows 10, Windows Update Management, Windows Updates

A recent UK academic study finds Windows 10 Home users mostly unaware about Windows Update controls. The overall update process is confusing them, too. That’s why this post is entitled academics say MS updates confuse Win10 Home users. The paper comes from the Workshop on Usable Security (San Diego, CA, 2/24/2019). It includes a Windows Home update process flowchart, reproduced here:

The sheer number of boxes and arrows shows that words like quick, simple and easy don’t necessarily apply to the Win10 Home update process.
[Click image for full-sized view. Source: WUS Paper.]

Why Academics Say MS Updates Confuse Win10 Home Users

The paper’s abstract ticks off the reasons why Win10 users are baffled, and sometimes unhappy, about the update process. If a user sets a specific restart time, the OS will restart then even if the machine is in use. Just over one-quarter (28%) of Win10 Home users know about “Restart outside active hours.” Users are blissfully unaware that “quality updates” are mostly bug fixes. Their perception of updates is that they primarily add features and functions to Windows.

There’s more. Half the surveyed population reported unexpected restarts. Half reported that concern about the state of their PC increases as the time to complete an update rises. Users with prior negative experiences with updates were less likely to believe themselves able to control the update process.

Conclusions from the study include the following:

  • The Windows 10 Home update process frustrates most users
  • Most users don’t really understand what goes on during that process, and what updates really do
  • Microsoft doesn’t really offer much help, insight, or information to help Home users understand the update process
  • Surprise reboots during the update process are disruptive and upsetting
  • Microsoft should offer users the ability to delay or defer restarts before a “surprise reboot” occurs

Gosh! I don’t think the update experience is all that different for users of other Windows 10 versions (Pro, Enterprise, and Education). Fortunately, IT people in organizations of any size bear the brunt of this confusion and distress. But the overall sensations described in the study sure seem familiar to me!

[Note: thanks to Windows Report whose March 1 story “Study shows Windows 10 fails to assist users during the update process” brought the study to my attention.]


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