Archive for category Windows 7

Why Yahoo! never made it too far

Disclaimer: I am not a programmer. I did a bit of programming in college and I “dabble” occasionally. I by no means consider myself hard core but the following might assume I think I am.

We all know the hype of IE9 right? It’s the latest and greatest out of the halls of Redmond. They’re suggesting for all of us to upgrade and try it out and see for ourselves it’s the best thing since sliced bread. OK, I took the plunge, I upgraded just like many others will – in order to try it out as well as try to be ahead of the IT curve, in such a case I get asked any questions.

Today, I took my browser to Yahoo! Answers because Bing told me it would have the answer to the question I was looking for. I got there and Yahoo! told me IE9 wasn’t a new enough browser and I should upgrade:

yahoo-answers-upgrade-ie

What’s even more comedical is when I click on the Upgrade Now link, in lieu of taking me anywhere it takes me to a page that says:

yahoo faux paux 2

Yep, that’s right. IE8 isn’t available for my system. So, three learning experiences we need to teach Yahoo! in order to get them up to speed:

1. When testing for browser compatibility your programmers might want to use $browser >= $version and not just hard code specific versions

2. P.S. I’m running Windows 7 which runs IE 8 fine although you don’t seem to think so

3. IE8 is not ONLY available for XP, Vista and Server 2008. It comes bundled with Windows 7 which makes it available for that OS too (see number 2 above).

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Bytes by TechNet

If you missed TechEd North America this year, they launched a new initiative called Bytes by TechNet. I was lucky enough to get interviewed by Keith Combs from TechNet…Check out the interview here:

Alternatively find the entire interview on TechNet here

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The mobile (cell) business is hotting up

For those of you eagerly awaiting the Windows Phone 7 Series, the other mobile industry news must be quite interesting as well. What is it I’m taking about or referring to? Well, let’s take a look at two big stories around the mobile industry over the past 24/48 hours:

Android sales overtake the fruit machine. Yep you read it right, the good ‘ole iPhone just isn’t as good as it once was. Proof that you can’t rest on your laurels. – http://gigaom.com/2010/08/02/android-sales-overtake-iphone-in-the-u-s/

– BlackBerry traffic to be outlawed in Saudi. Hmm, that’s an interesting one. Does that mean that all data type traffic will be outlawed or is this a target at RIM only? Read more here http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-10860491

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Reflections of a Bus Trip

It’s been almost one month since my last blog post and for that I apologize. For those of you who know me will know that I was on a bus for two weeks down the entire east coast of the USA followed by a week at TechEd and then a two week stint (back again) in Montreal.

Flying home from Montreal, I’ve had the chance to reflect on it all and I’d like to share my thoughts and experiences with you Smile

Everyone asks, how was the bus trip. Most one word verbs could easily describe it…Exhausting, fun, tiring, busy, stressful, intense, hard work…the list could go on and on. In the end though I could easily sum it up with the phrase “an experience of a lifetime”.

We met over 3,000 IT Professionals from various walks of life all with differing jobs and backgrounds. Ones that manage environments with 10 computers to those in charge of over 10,000 devices. Some had cloud services implemented, some still had Exchange 2003. Many of them ran Office 2003 and most of them still were hanging on to Windows XP, but wondering how to magically get to Windows 7. Lots wanted to know about the idiosyncrasies of Office 2010, while others were more interested in seeing how to deploy a new OS.

In the end, I hope most of them learned something new or took something away from the stops we made along the way. I know each city challenged me in thinking “outside the box” and also gave me a completely new perspective on the same tasks I do every day and for that I thank them.

If you didn’t know about the bus tour, here are some of the highlights of it. We had a videographer with us so we could capture the best bits of each city, and of course on the overlapping weekend, we had some fun too. If asked to do it again, would I? I’m not sure, but I can strongly say if you’re ever given the opportunity to do something like this, don’t think twice and jump on it immediately.

If you talked to us along the way, leave your comments. If you didn’t see us, here’s just some of what you missed!

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Get Microsoft Silverlight

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Windows UI Wierdness

The User Interface (UI) in Windows is more friendly than ever now that Windows 7 has been released. Furthermore, it syncs and matches that of the Windows 2008 R2 interface, so if you know your way around one, you can easily navigate between the two. I’ve been doing loads of work with both lately on laptops, and I came across a strange thing and thought hmph and was wondering what you thought…

Try this for yourself and then ask, “Why is that in the UI”?

Click on start and type “power set”.  It should come up with change battery settings:

power-settings

When that window comes up, simply click on “Change plan settings”. My example screen shows my machine on the balanced setting, yours may vary:

change plan settings

That will bring up the basic options/settings for the specified power plan. On that screen, click “Change advanced power settings”:

change advanced settings

Now you’ve got the advanced settings open, expand the battery section and then expand “low battery level” for example (you could also choose critical battery level):

low battery level

OK, so is it me, or why is there a plugged in percentage in the UI? If I hover over it the tool tip reads:

Percentage of battery capacity remaining that indicates the low battery action

which is all fine, but can you tell me, if I’m connected to a power supply (a.k.a. plugged in), how can my battery be diminishing it’s power and how will I ever see it “drop” below a certain percentage?

UI flaw?

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Deploying with a Twist – SmartDeploy

cds For many years I was a principal consultant with Altiris (in the US and EMEA) and when XP was released I oversaw more deployments than had hot dinners. I got deployment burn out and went to work for a smaller IT company to try to gather my thoughts (and get of the IT radar) only to find myself now 6 years later faced with the same scenario I had back then, deploy and stay up with the times (i.e. Windows 7) or potentially go unsupported (XP SP2) – and getting off the IT radar, yeah I’ve only involved myself more…

At any rate, enter the imaging and deployment contenders – all names we’ve heard of before, right? Altiris, Acronis, and SCCM – the big boys.  That was until I did a bit of research and came across a product called SmartDeploy from Prowess. From the outside what it seems you do is create a VM and then take an image of that VM, which subsequently makes a .wim file you then deploy, the twist being that it injects the drivers at boot time in it’s own version of WinPE, giving you added flexibility. Pretty cool. There seems to be a scripting environment too, but I haven’t gotten that deep yet…

Altiris as we all know builds images and they do that really well, but their images are akin to trying to kill a mosquito with a cannon ball, they not only want to do imaging, but they also want to do inventory, system management, anti-virus, essentially be the one stop shop, which – don’t get me wrong, one vendor is good for some things, but all your eggs in one basket in this arena…I’m not too sure. Plus, their images are still a big and bulky format – not .wim files – which with today’s hardware means a minimum of two images (an x86 and and x64), not to mention a larger pipe for deployment and more disk space to save these images…

SCCM and the Microsoft deployment tools, they’re great too, but they’re more focused at the big league. To get the most benefit from anything Microsoft you have to be either really good at it and focus 110% of your time and efforts on it, or be an enterprise organisation with an EA SA VL and a few other acronyms, ensuring you get the licensing you need when you need it.

Acronis, personally I’ve never used them but every time I look at their marketing efforts or see them mentioned, it seems they’re focused at helping John Doe make an image of his home PC so in case it breaks he’s got a backup…I could be wrong, but that is what their marketing seems to give me the impression of…

Now, here is where SmartDeploy seems to fit in. From what I can gather their licensing model is based on IT head count that will use the product rather than desktop deployments and their sweet spot is the SME market which other guys tend to leave behind or don’t fully address. Often, I find the SME market seems to include government and schools too, which it seems SmartDeploy have a few case studies on, so I can’t be too far from wrong 😉

At any rate, over the next few days (ok, weeks) I’m going dust off the deployment gloves and see what Prowess has to offer because we all know that the Windows 7 migration and imaging jobs can’t be avoided too much longer and a new contender to the market is always welcome as is a fresh set of ideas, not to mention yet another alternative to add to my imaging tool belt…

If you’ve used their tool or know any more about it, please let me know too as I’d be interested!  Watch this space…

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Getting Started with Intune

Earlier this week Microsoft announced a new program called Windows Intune:

intune logo

The concept behind it is simple…Management via the cloud – including licensing. Now, that simple sentence means a lot more under the hood.  Let’s take a look at what Intune is and what it has to offer.

Licensing

One of the more difficult things SME (small / medium enterprise) customers have is getting the right software licensing.  Intune helps address this by giving you a license to Windows 7 Enterprise and also includes in it the rights to Software Assurance. Right away you should be jumping up and down…Why?  Because SA includes MDOP, a small set of tools that have more bang for their buck than you know.  If you’ve not heard of MDOP before, check it out and if you’ve got SA, try and get your hands on it to learn more about it (you can also test the bits via MSDN and TechNet).

Interface/ux/ui

Ok, so we now know what the licensing is like, how does it work? As with more and more tools these days, Intune is a cloud based service.  Simply navigate to a URL and you’ve got your management console in one location.  The biggest benefits to this are Anywhere access and the lack of need for a complex back end infrastructure (you don’t need your own SQL server, you don’t need your own SCOM server, you don’t need your own…). So, you want to know what it looks like?

intune console

Simply login using your LiveID and away you go…More in to management with LiveID’s later…

It runs entirely on Silverlight so no need for ActiveX components of old (yay), which also means for those of you who prefer to use something other than Internet Explorer, yep, it works in Firefox (p.s. say hello to cookie monster there 😉 :

console firefox

What’s Included
software reporting

So, you now know about the licensing and the console, what is it that’s under the hood that Intune can do for you? First off, it does Inventory…For those of you familiar with MDOP you’ll recognise some of the screens to be similar to the AIS (Asset Inventory Service). It tells us the software title, publisher and a category as well as the count of computers it’s installed on:

intune software listing

Further, we can drill down on the software title and get more information on it if the software title offers it up to the agent/console.

licensing amalgamation

Wow, Microsoft teams are starting to collaborate (joke). No, really though, for years we’ve had eOpen, we’ve had tool B and then we’ve had the different licensing agreements from here there and everywhere…Well now with Intune, there is a licensing module that will bring all of that mess tidily (is that a word?) under one roof. Simply import a .csv file with the agreement and license numbers or if you don’t have that, manually add them and watch your licenses appear magically in the same console that manages the software (woo hoo!!):

intune licensing

software update management

As noted above, one of the biggest challenges for smaller organisations is infrastructure. To get the functionality of what Intune offers, you’d need SQL, SCOM, SCCM, WSUS and a full time position (benefits, health care, pension, vacation pay, agro)…Intune takes care of that and software management is no exception. With Intune you can manage software updates with a simple click, no need for the infrastructure and even better yet, no need for the disk storage to hold all of the potential updates!

intune updates

and again, as integration is key, simply click on any update to get further information about it:

update drilled down

You can also approve and decline updates on a one-by-one basis this way too (don’t worry you can globally manage multiple updates too).

reporting

So, all of the above is great (as an IT person) however what about the people in management who want pretty reports? Yep, Intune has those as well. Three basic categories:

  • Update reports
  • Software reports
  • License reports

As they allude to, the first one tells which machines (based on your filtering criteria) meet or don’t meet specifications of a certain classification, status or grouping.

The software report does what it says on the tin – reports on the software you’ve got installed. Again, filter on the publisher, category or specific computer groups/departments.

software reporting

And then the licensing reporting, the most critical to the number crunchers…Installation report and puchase report – again filtered against all agreements or selected agreements, depending on what is entered in to the licensing module (explained above).

Interaction

Ok, so there is loads included above but what determines how this information gets to Intune and how exactly does it get there? Well, similar to GPO’s, Intune has policies that are controlled by it’s agent. Simply download the x86 or x64 client from the administration area and install it (from what I can tell it embeds your Intune information in to the .msi installer). No questions, simply double click the installer, reboot and let a few more updates trickle down and presto, you’re Intune. All traffic to and from Intune is encrypted over an HTTPS tunnel to keep it secure, and once an agent checks in, it can, like GPO’s be assigned policies, when to update, what to include and what software/patches to send to the machine.

Further one cool thing is the agent allows the user to request remote control from the administrator over this SSL connection. They simply open their Intune agent locally (on the desktop by default) and click on Microsoft Easy Assist:

intune agent launch 

This triggers an email to whomever is set up in the console (in their language even), with detailed information about the remote control request and includes a link to directly remote control the user:

intune error

Summary

So, to wrap it all up, Intune is the remote system admin toolkit without the need for local infrastructure and expertise.  It gives you:

  • Windows 7 Enterprise Licensing
  • MDOP
  • Software Assurance
  • Inventory
  • Patch Management
  • Reporting
  • Remote Control
  • Monitoring & Alerting
  • Malware Protection
  • Licensing Control

…all in one simple location for one simple price.

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Windows 7 + MDOP + Office 2010 = One Big Bus

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Do you have a passion for IT?  Do you want to learn more about Windows 7?  Do you want to know more about Office 2010?  Do you even know what MDOP is?

If any of the above questions intrigued your interest and you are close to the east coast of the USA, this is THE EVENT for you.  Two weeks prior to Tech Ed, the Microsoft Bus Tour returns and hopefully is coming to a city near you

Are any of the below cities near you?

Montreal, May 21 | Boston, May 24 | New York, May 25 | Philadelphia, May 26 | Washington DC, May 27 & 28 | Richmond, June 1 | Raleigh, June 2 | Charlotte, June 3 | Atlanta, June 4 | New Orleans, June 5

If they are, you need to head over to http://microsoftbustour.com/ and register NOW (not later, not tomorrow, NOW!!). Spaces are limited and they will fill up fast, I mean, c’mon…when was the last time a big rig rolled in to your town full of geeks giving knowledge away!?

Further, should you want to follow the Bus, we’ll be ending up at TechEd North America 2010 in New Orleans which if you haven’t registered for that either, what are you waiting for?!!?

Follow @thebustour on Twitter or join our Facebook Fan Club!

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Microsoft’s Virtualisation Announcement & XP Mode

After today’s Virtualisation Hour there was a lot of buzz surrounding the announcements Microsoft made about memory and naturally XP Mode.  I wanted to take a minute though and look more closely at the XP Mode story and hope to help you more clearly understand it.

xp mode

XP Mode…First off, what exactly is it?  Well, it’s virtualisation functionality that allows your Windows 7 machine to run legacy Windows XP applications.  Subjectively looking at it, what it does is allows you to migrate to Windows 7 while still having “backwards compatibility” with older, potentially legacy XP apps.  Maybe you’ve got an app that was developed a long time ago and the developer left…Maybe you’ve got an app that is being developed for Windows 7 but in the interim you need to support it on XP…Maybe you’ve got an app that is part of a merger or set of existing apps that needs deprecated.  XP Mode serves the needs of all of the aforementioned.

XP Mode, however, when it first came out, required what is known as HAV or Hardware Assisted Virtualisation.  In the Intel world it’s Intel VT, in the AMD world it’s called AMD-V.  Essentially it was a BIOS switch you needed to flip in order to ensure that your hardware could run the virtualisation stack more seamlessly.  If you’ve done any 64 bit virtualisation before, surely you’ll have seen this setting.  However, the draw back of this meant that the value sell proposition of Windows 7 was less attractive.  One of the main benefits of Windows 7 was that it didn’t require all of the resources previous operating systems did and hence you could easily upgrade your older hardware to Windows 7.

However, if you were to upgrade legacy hardware, what did this mean?  You guessed it, no Intel VT or AMD-V in most cases, which also now meant no XP mode.  With today’s announcement however, you can now virtualise XP without needing HAV.

This gives you a seamless experience and supportability for those legacy XP apps on any piece of hardware.  That’s the good news.  Here’s the IT spin on it though and where most people go wrong or don’t think of the consequences…

Windows XP mode is a STOP GAP.  It is not an enterprise solution.  Just because you know certain apps work fine on XP and they don’t pass the acidity test to run on Windows 7 DOES NOT mean simply roll out XP mode.  XP mode in a sense is a stand alone machine that is isolated from everything.  Now you ask, wait, it’s part of the domain surely?  Well, yes, however it only gets fired up by the end user when it is needed, therefore the manageability factor of this workstation is VERY difficult to handle.  Let us also not forget that XP SP2 is going End of Life on July 13, 2010.

Also, as an IT admin, ask yourself (if you know about .vhd technology), do you really want .vhd’s floating around in your environment with potentially lucrative company data and applications?  Also, each time you rebuild a workstation, now not only is it one rebuild, it’s two – per workstation!

Sure there are times in an enterprise when you need “XP Mode” but there are much nicer enterprise tools available…Take for example MED-V.  Alternatively, you could always try to run the app in App-V which would centralise it and make updating much easier and put less overhead and burden on your network.  There is further, the option of RDS, but that’s a lot of infrastructure to just support one app. 

My point is that while, yes, it is nice to see the XP Mode caveat of HAV taken away, take it with a grain of salt.  Play your legacy Flight Sim games at home in XP Mode…Use Microsoft BOB in XP Mode, but please don’t take this announcement to mean that now you have a get-out-of-jail-free card to go deploying XP Mode in your corporate environment.

So, without further adieu, here are the distributables you need to make this happen should you wish to remove the requirement for HAV, making XP Mode work in Windows 7.

32 bit MSU Package

64 bit MSU Package

and, should you want some more bedtime reading, here is the KB article which corresponds to the announcement and the MSU’s above.

Enjoy!

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Microsoft Virtualisation Just Got Even Better

We’re all eagerly anticipating Service Pack 1 as everyone does for things, but today the world got shook up with a pre-SP1 announcement that had loads of other “goodies” in it.  There was a webcast (Virtualisation Hour) that announced some cool things…Let’s look at them more in detail:

            • Windows XP Mode no longer requires hardware virtualization technology
            • Microsoft Dynamic Memory will allow customers to adjust memory of a guest virtual machine on demand to maximize server hardware use
            • Microsoft RemoteFX will enable users of virtual desktops and applications to receive a rich 3-D, multimedia experience while accessing information remotely.
            • New roaming use rights improve flexibility
            • Big partnerships with Citrix – http://www.citrixandmicrosoft.com/

So, what’s that really mean?  Microsoft is committed to improving virtualisation for you me and the rest of the world.  They’re also listening to the consumers as above is what people have been asking for.

Looks like the optimised desktop isn’t so far off or so difficult to manage is it?  (More on the optimised desktop in a later blog)

Source: Microsoft Press Pass

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