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An Epic Advantage to Windows 8 & the Cloud

The vast majority of computer users will never care about this.  That is because the vast majority of computer users use a single computer for years on end.  They use them at home, and then maybe (assuming it is a laptop) they take it to Internet cafes, possibly school or work, and likely on the road to hotels.  Most of these places will not have complex passwords for their wireless Internet.

WiFi1I do not fit into this category of computer user.

I have the following laptops that I use, either regularly or not, that all ‘belong to’ me in one semi-permanent way or another:

Lenovo Carbon X1 (my own)
Lenovo Carbon X1 (my Japanese corporate laptop)
Microsoft Surface Pro 2
2x HP EliteBook ‘server farm’ laptops

To make matters just slightly more complicated, I use most of them is all manner of places with complex passwords, ranging from companies that I visit to different hotels (many of which actually do have passwords for wireless) to cafes and restaurants and, of course, when I am somewhere without free WiFi I will tether any or all of these to my phone.

Now just to make things more interesting, let’s add the extra complications that a) I very often re-image these machines for any number of reasons, and b) many of them have virtual machines on them that also require access to the Internet.

Now, imagine I visit ten companies or people who have WiFi passwords like this: 2DE5A4210CBEE4.  Using the old way of doing things, every time I brought a different computer with me, or the same computer but re-imaged, I would need to re-enter the password.  What a pain.

So here’s the deal: I have not been to my parents’ flat in Montreal since July, when I was here with the entire family.  It was, as I recall, my first or second visit.  At the time I was not really using my Surface Pro (for my own reasons) so I was here with my Lenovo.  I must have connected to the network here at the time with the Lenovo.

In September when Microsoft released Windows 8.1 I re-imaged the Lenovo immediately.  I remember when I came back from Japan in November I thought it was acting wonky, so I re-imaged it at that point as well.  When I left Microsoft Canada in December I did not want to be out of license compliance by using their corporate image, so I re-imaged it again.  As for my Surface Pro, I re-imaged it in September as well, but then traded it in for a new Surface Pro 2 128 in January, and subsequently traded that one in for a Surface Pro 256 in February.

All of this to say that there is absolutely no way there was something left on a machine from my previous visit.

Last night when I was sitting in bed (in Oakville) organizing the newest Surface Pro the way I like it I noticed that I had not entered the WiFi password and it worked.  However there are all sorts of phenomena that could have explained that.  However when I got to my parents’ place in Montreal and I did not need a password for their WiFi I was thrilled… it is actually stored in your Microsoft Account profile.

WiFi2In other words, if you visit a friend today, get a new computer tomorrow, then visit them next week your new computer will automatically connect to the network for you.  Cool.

I was discussing the other day with a colleague how far we have come in the past thirty years with regard to computers.  They have certainly gotten easier to use and more convenient… to the point that sometimes we do not notice some of the improvements… at least, until someone writes about them. 

We are always so quick to point out the flaws in the technologies we use… the problems with new security features or features that were taken out.  When Microsoft releases a new operating system they usually put so many new features in that even their marketing and evangelism teams have to pick and choose the ones to really tout.  I suppose because (as I said in the opening lines) this improvement will only be very exciting for a select few, it didn’t make the list.  I will tell you though that had I known about it earlier I would have shouted it from the rooftops… because MY audience will care.

There are, of course, myriad benefits to using Windows 8.x with a Microsoft Account (SkyDrive, Windows Store, etc…) but this one is now officially on my list.  Is it on yours?  Let me know… and if not, what IS on your list?  I may not be an evangelist anymore, but I’d still like to know!

The Harsh Realities of the Exam Room

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how tough I found Exam 74-409 was in my article Another Tough Exam.  I also mentioned that Microsoft exams were meant to be tough, and going into an exam unprepared can (and usually will) come back to bite you.

Last week I decided to bite the bullet and try to take home at least three certifications in a single marathon day of exams… I was hoping to achieve my MCSA: Windows 8, MCSA: Windows Server 2012, and my MCSE: Desktop Infrastructure in a single bound by passing three exams:

70-416: Implementing Desktop Application Environments
70-417: Upgrading Your Skills to MCSA Windows Server 2012
70-688: Managing and Maintaining Windows 8

The goal was lofty, but I felt I was up to the challenge.  I was wrong… but not terribly so.

Before going on I should mention that I am no dummy… I am just very busy, and taking the time to sit exams one at a time is a bit of a pain for me – I would rather, when I have to, simply write two or three in a single day.  Of course, this greatly reduces my chances of passing all of them, but because of the Microsoft and Prometric Second Shot Free offer for Microsoft Certified Trainers (see article) there is less of a risk – MCTs get a discount on the cost of exams, as well as a Second Shot.  My financial gamble on this day was minimal.  I have, by the by, passed three exams in a single day once… May 3, 2011 I passed three MCTS exams on Windows Server 2008.  If I could do it once, I could surely do it again.

Wrong.

Passing three exams in a single day was not easy, but they were all on the same general technology – Windows Server 2008.  On this silly day I went after three exams – one on Windows 8 (which I would have been surprised had I failed), one on Desktop Application environments (Windows 8 applications with a healthy dose of Windows Server, Remote Desktop Services, App-V, Group Policy, Microsoft Office, and several deployment tools), and one on Windows Server 2012…kinda.

Upgrade Exams

Thinking back to my early days of certification marathons, I remember hearing the horrors of Upgrade exams.  Essentially you are taking three exams in one.  The first Upgrade exam I sat was 70-292: Managing and Maintaining a Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Environment for an MCSA Certified on Windows 2000.  My success with this exam could be summed up with the old adage: Third time’s a charm.  I passed it in June of 2006… over a year after my first attempt.

Although I did have success with the MCDST (Desktop Support Technician) upgrade exam 70-621: Upgrading your MCDST Certification to MCITP Enterprise Support I did not fare nearly as well on the server side – 70-648 TS: Transition from Windows Server 2003 MCSA to Windows Server 2008 and TS: Transition from Windows Server 2003 MCSE to Windows Server 2008 (both of which I sat as beta exams and, coincidentally, on the same day) were not my finest hours.  I decided instead to sit all of the exams for these certifications instead of going the upgrade path again.

In hindsight, had I thought of that when scheduling the exams, I would not have done it.  Three exams in one day is mentally tough enough… add to that one of them is actually three exams, and even I wouldn’t have done it.

I never got into a rhythm for the exam, and did not notice that it was not one exam as one block of time, it was actually three sections, each with their own sub-block of time.  Unfortunately I only realized this when, with ten unanswered questions on Section 1, a pop-up warned me that I had two minutes to complete the section.  Without reading anything I clicked through and selected an answer for as many as I could (four) before being forced to leave six questions unanswered.

Now that I knew this was the case, I managed my time for the remaining sections much better… but four blind darts and six blanks doomed me.

You did not pass the exam.

I do not remember the actual wording of it, but that’s what it said… I had felt pretty good going into that last ‘Are You Sure?! ‘ button, which is why I was heartbroken when it came up.  Damn damn damn.

Wait a minute… I did a double-take when I noticed that my score was below 600.  583?  No way, I know I did better than that, there MUST BE SOME MISTAKE!  I don’t know the procedures for challenging an exam result (nor do I know if there is such a procedure) but at the end of the day when I collected my score reports I was going to find out.

Okay, that was only one of the exams… the server exam, which I could re-sit next week sometime.  I got my mindset into the application environment.  It was a really tough exam, but I passed it with a pretty respectable score.  I then went on to the Managing Windows 8 exam, which after the ordeal of the two previous exams was like a walk in the park.  I am not saying that any end user – or an IT Pro who isn’t intimately familiar with Windows 8 – could pass without a lot of preparation, but I have lived Windows 8 every day of the last 2.5 years, and even though that last ‘Are You Sure?!button is always nerve wracking, I passed very respectably.

Okay, good.  At least I could hold my head high with the knowledge that I would walk away with two Windows certifications today… MCSA: Windows 8, and MCSE: Desktop Infrastructure.  Now I could go look at the score report and go give someone a piece of my mind!

Wrong.

First the good news… I am not as much of a Windows Server bonehead as I thought.  I did not realize that for the Upgrade exam each section is marked as a complete exam… the score report actually comes out like this:

70-410: Installing and Configuring Windows Server 2012: 800
70-411: Administering Windows Server 2012: 583
70-412: Configuring Advanced Windows Server 2012 Services: 766

Aha… while the results of certification exams are really binary – Pass/Fail – I felt a lot better knowing that had they averaged out my score for the three exams I would have passed, and the abysmal score that displayed on screen was just that of the lowest section – quite obviously the section on which I only answered 2/3 of the questions.  Alright, I feel better about that, and now that I know, the next time I sit the exam I can manage my time properly (I’ll bet you if you scour my blog you will see that advice for exam takers) and pass with authority.

I was wrong about something else on this day though… Although I thought the prerequisites for the MCSE: Desktop Infrastructure were my MCSA Windows 8 and the 70-416 exam, it turns out that the first prerequisite is actually my MCSA Windows Server 2012… alas, I would only be walking away with one certification today, and not two as I was hoping and expecting.  With that said, if/when I do pass my 70-417 Upgrade exam I will with one pass earn two senior certifications… and that ain’t all bad as they say.

Conclusion

The old expression says that the shoemaker’s children go barefoot.  I got bit quite a bit by not following my own advice.  Fortunately Microsoft and Prometric have my back, and I can come back and re-sit the exam for free.  That is one piece of advice I did listen to – make sure you check for any offers such as the Second Shot before you register for your exam.  Although I have registered for several exams with previous similar offers, this is the first time I will need the safety net.  However just because you are confident does not mean you should be stupid… take any offer they will give you, and save your money.  I am glad I did!

Converting VHDs to VHDX and other questions…

Many of the articles I write for both The World According to Mitch and the Canadian IT Pro Connection come directly from people I meet through my travels.  They send me questions about technology by e-mail and rather than simply replying to them, if I feel the questions are relevant, I write them up as articles.  So if you meet me at one of my sessions and you ask me a question, do not be surprised if I ask you to e-mail it to me… oftentimes I will need to research the answer, but sometimes it is because I think that it would make for an interesting write-up.

I have known Betty for as long as I have been going to her home town, and while she loves to give me grief I know that she is always attentive and learns from my presentations.  She recently sent me an e-mail with two very good questions on Hyper-V following my IT Camp on Windows Server 2012.

QUESTION 1:

I have several virtual machines that were created on Server 2008R2, and I would like to convert them to VHDX to take advantage of all the new features on Windows 2012. Is this possible?

The process for exporting the virtual machine from Hyper-V on Windows Server 2008 R2 and then importing it as a virtual machine onto a host running Windows Server 2012 is fairly simple: Export, then Import.  However as I am sure you realize this does not convert the disk file format… ViVo in this case stands for VHD in, VHD out.  However the Edit Disk Wizard in the new Hyper-V is your friend here.

  1. Ensure that your virtual machine is powered down (or better yet disconnected).
  2. From the Actions Pane of the Hyper-V Manager click Edit Disk…
  3. On the Before You Begin page click Next.
  4. On the Locate Virtual Hard Disk page navigate to the location of our VHD file (use Browse if you like!).  Click Next.
  5. On the Choose Action page select the radio marked Convert and click Next.
  6. On the Convert Virtual Hard Disk page select the radio marked VHDX and click Next.
  7. On the second Convert Virtual Hard Disk page select the disk format you prefer (Fixed or Dynamically Expanding) and click Next.
  8. On the third Convert Virtual Hard Disk page enter the name and location of your new VHDX file and click Finish.
    Depending on the size of your source disk it may take a few minutes to create the new file; for larger disks you might want to run the Edit Disk Wizard to compact it before proceeding.  However once you are done you will have both the Source and the Destination disks, and all you have to do is edit the settings of your VM and attach the new drive, and you are ready to rock!image
  • Notice that your new file is about 145 MB larger than the original.  That is perfectly normal and nothing to be concerned about.

      PowerShell: I’ve Got The Power!!
      Thanks to folks like Ed Wilson and our very own Sean Kearney it is once again cool to use the command line… or rather, the cmdlet.   Nearly anything that you can do in the GUI can also be done in PowerShell, hence allowing us to create scripts to use at various clients or sites.  If you want to convert your VHD to VHDX in PowerShell here’s how:

    Convert-VHD -Path C:\ClusterStorage\Volume1\VHDsVM-1.vhd -DestinationPath C:\ClusterStorage\Volume1\VHDsVM-1.vhdx

    SNAGHTML6c7c42

    Again, it is important to remember that a) Your hard drive be off-line (or disconnected), and b) that once you have created the new VHDX file you must attach it to the VM before spinning it back up.  As well you will notice the difference in file size.  Nothing to be concerned by.

    (This cmdlet can also be used to convert VHDX files back to VHD files)

    QUESTION 2:

    Do the virtual machines have to be Server 2012 for me to take advantage of the new features of Hyper-V in Windows Server 2012, and especially the new .VHDX file format?

    Of course not.  Remember that the host and the guest have no real conception that the other is there; as long as you can install it on x86 hardware, you can install it in a Hyper-V virtual machine.  With that being said, there is a difference between can and is supported.  Remember that your Windows NT, 2000, DOS 3.3 and OS/2 Warp VMs are not supported by Microsoft… even though they will work just fine Winking smile 

    For Bonus Points:

    What is possible technologically is not always allowed legally.  It is important to make sure that all of the operating systems in your VMs are licensed on that host.  I have seen too many companies perform P2V migrations of physical servers that had OEM licenses attached to them, only to discover during an audit that they were out of compliance.  Make sure you have verified all of your licensing so that nobody will get their nose out of joint Smile

  • Windows 8: Client Hyper-V and Why It Matters

    Recently I sat down with Kevin Remde from Microsoft’s US DPE team to discuss virtualization in Windows 8.  We had a great discussion about VDI, client-side Hyper-V, and a lot of other interesting options.  Let us know what you think! -M

    http://aka.ms/fe3epl

    Converting an SD Card to Permanent Storage in Windows Devices

    So as you know I was all excited to buy the very first Microsoft Surface Pro.  I bought the 128 GB model because I knew that despite the fact that I have all sorts of external hard drives I was even likely to ax out 128 GB pretty quick.  Fortunately between Cloud-based storage (SkyDrive for my personal stuff, SkyDrive Pro for my business files) and the ability to add a micro-SD card I would be fine.

    I arrived at my hotel in Redmond and the package from my Amazon.com seller was there; I excitedly ripped it open and inserted the 64 GB card into the Surface Pro, reformatted it with NTFS, and installed the SkyDrive Desktop Client on Windows 8 (which allows me to synchronize my SkyDrive files onto my device’s hard drive or, in this case, its SD card.

    imageWow… ‘Your SkyDrive folder cannot be created in the location you selected.’ This was really disappointing, because that was exactly what I wanted to use my SD Card for… along with my Document, Picture, and Music Libraries.  I will be honest, it never occurred to me that I could not map these to external drives, although it does make sense.  However I was planning on making this SD Card a permanent drive in my Surface Pro, so I needed to find a way to do it.

    \I did a little research and discovered that indeed there was a way… or rather a workaround that would work perfectly.  Here’s what I did:

    1) I created a directory on my C Drive called c:\SD Card.

    2) I opened Disk Manager in Windows – you can either do that by right-clicking on the bottom-left corner of your screen and selecting Disk Management. If you are on a tablet and have no mouse, you could alternately pull up that menu by clicking Winkey-X.

    3) Right-click on your SD Card and click Change Drive Letter and Paths…

    4) Click Add…

    5) In the Add a new drive letter or path for X: (Where X is the drive letter represented by your SD Card) select the radio Mount in the following empty NTFS folder:

    6) Click Browse…and navigate to the directory that you created.  Click OK.

    You should now be ready to proceed.  To be sure, right-click on your SD card again and click Change Drive Letter and Paths… Your window should look like this:

    image

    The SD Card has both a drive letter and the mount point on the C drive.  If this is what you see then you are ready to proceed.  Cancel out of this window and close the Disk Management console.

    I started the SkyDrive desktop app again and instead of mapping my SkyDrive folder to D: I mapped it to C:\SD Card\.

    image

    That looked a lot better.  I was able to proceed and my SkyDrive files are now synchronizing properly.

    imageNow that my SkyDrive was done I decided to go the next step and map some of my Libraries to the SD Card as well.  This was easy at this point… I simply opened the File Explorer and created a new directory on the SD Card called d:\Pictures. I then right-clicked on the Pictures library that I wanted to redirect (in the Navigation Pane) and clicked Properties.  I clicked Add… and in the Browse window I selected the new directory (c:\SD Card) and clicked Include.  Back in the Properties box I clicked Set save location.  I also dragged it to the top of the list.  So now my Properties window looks like this:

    Notice that the Pictures (C:\SD Card) is at the top of the list, and has a check mark next to it.  That means that when I start saving pictures (or decide to import them from another profile) they will go onto the SD card and not onto the internal drive.

    All of these steps will work for tablets but also for hybrids, laptops, and even desktops.  It is a simple mechanism to convert external storage to internal storage.  The mount point on the C drive is used as a hard link to the SD card, and nothing stored in that directory is actually on the C drive… it just looks that way to ‘fool’ Windows into doing what you want to do.

    Good luck!

    A Tour of the Surface Pro with Tom’s Hardware

    On the day that Microsoft released the Surface Pro I sat down with Alex Davies from Tom’s Hardware (www.tomshardware.com) and gave him a little tour of the device.  He recorded it and that recording went live on Monday.  Check it out and let me know what you think! –MDG

    http://www.tomshardware.com/news/Microsoft-Surface-Pro-Hands-on-Demo,21030.html

    Microsoft Surface with Windows 8 Pro: It’s Here!

    For most of the months of October through December, while I was on tour talking about Windows 8, the new Office 2013 & Office 365, and Windows Server 2012 the most common question I heard was not about any of these products… it was something like ‘So where’s your Surface? Why don’t you have a Surface? When will you have a Surface?’ It was grinding… not because I didn’t want one… I did, and badly.  However I knew that if I bought myself a Surface with Windows RT in November my wife would never let me go back in February to buy myself a Surface with Windows Pro.  So I waited… patiently.

    Of course, as a Virtual Evangelist for Microsoft Canada there was speculation that they would give me one… but that didn’t happen.  In December I watched with envy as all of my friends and colleagues got theirs – every Microsoft employee got one, but alas, I am a contractor so I didn’t.

    Earlier at the beginning of summer I had promised my son that he could have one when they came out, and so in November I asked him if he wanted the RT version, or if he wanted to wait for the Pro version.  Of course he opted for the RT version, and so he got one as a late middle-school graduation present.  I took my wife with me to buy his device, and she was so enamoured with it that we bought two that day – hers being an early Christmas present.  Still and all, I could look, but unless they needed technical support I could not touch.

    And then a few weeks ago the general availability date was announced: February 9th.

    I called my main contact at the Microsoft Store in Yorkdale Mall (Toronto) and confirmed that they would be going on sale on that day.  I asked if he could put one aside for me, and his response was ‘yes… but I can only hold it until the end of the day on the 9th so make sure you come that day!’  I was willing to do him one better… since the shipment was obviously arriving well in advance of that day, why not simply let me come pick it up a few days early and we’ll keep it between us?  ‘Not a chance… not even one minute before the 9th!’ (And of course no, they were not planning a midnight event, so I would have to wait until morning!)

    Then I had an idea. ‘Friend, what if I were to come in early the morning of February 9th, buy the very first Surface sold in Canada, and record it for my blog in the store before you even open?’  He thought that was not only doable, but was a great idea.  I put it in my calendar, and remembered to confirm with him on the 8th to make sure he hadn’t forgotten me… which I feel bad about because he never would!

    Mother Nature decided to test Mitch…

    February 8th, for those of you who were not paying attention, recorded the largest single-day snowfall in southern Ontario in nearly a decade.  Everyone on every media from Television to Twitter was saying that if you didn’t have to go out… don’t.  The road crews would be out in full force, but it would likely take them throughout the weekend to clear the minor arteries and possibly into next week for crescents, circles, and such (in one of which I happen to live).  Knowing that I needed to drive out the following morning I bribed my teenaged son to shovel the driveway in the early evening.  He did enough to make sure that I would be able to get my car out.

    Of course, what are the chances that the tiny little circle, an off-shoot of a crescent off a tertiary road in Oakville, was going to be ploughed in time?  Fortunately Mayor Rob Burton follows me on Twitter and knew that I was planning to head out this morning, and made sure that our little ‘Griffith Place’ was cleared.  Okay, he did no such thing, but HUGE kudos to the road crews of Oakville, Ontario that cleared the street late last night! 

    At 6:15 on Saturday morning I headed out; I brushed 35 centimetres of heavy snow off my car and headed out, all the while listening to the reports on the radio of accidents along the way (I witnessed three of them and passed seven others on the 403 and 401).  I was not to be stopped!  I drove the treacherous highways ‘low and slow’ as I was taught for these conditions, and as I will teach my son next year.  It took me nearly an hour to get there and park, but I did so safely.

    Almost there…

    I was surprised that I got to the store at 7:15am, and there were already people waiting in both lines (one line for people with the ‘golden ticket’ and one for people without)!  I got my gear set up in the ‘theatre’ area.  I set up my video camera on my tripod, only to realize that the battery was dead.  No problem, I had plenty of time to go, so I plugged it in and let it charge.  I set up my Surface with Windows RT (ironic that after all that waiting a colleague at Microsoft actually did get me one!) and several of the available accessories on the table where I would shoot.  All I needed now was the Surface Pro…

    At 8:15 Friend brought out two devices – one for me, and one for another VIP customer named Mike who already has a Surface with Windows RT, but really wanted the Pro and was glad to be getting it this morning before he heads off to Europe.  Friend ran my credit card through, and once the POS system told him the sale was approved he e-mailed me my invoice and I was off to the races.

    The following videos were filmed in the Microsoft Store Theatre in Yorkdale Mall, Toronto.  I want to thank Alison (the store manager), Friend (who knows who he is, and Emily (who is the Community Development Specialist, and therefor in charge of the theatre area and all of the presentations and parties held there.  They were filmed on February 9th, 2013 between 8:30 and 9:00 in the morning.  The only edits that were done to the video were for the sake of time and flow.  All opinions, mistakes, errors, and omissions are mine and mine alone, and I have made no effort to alter the video to hide them.

    Opening the FIRST Surface Pro sold in Canada!
    Turning on and setting up my Surface Pro.
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