Facebook Down?

FacebookIf you have tried to log on to Facebook over the past couple of hours and have not had any luck, do not try adjusting your set.  The company is experiencing very widespread outages across the Americas.

According to www.downdetector.com, the outage is greatest on the east coast of North America, but Brazil and Peru seem pretty hard hit as well.

FacebookDown

I have seen this with other sites before, and I have also seen companies scrambling to find and fix issues with their internal systems, network, firewall, and so on… without checking to see if the actual site was down.  Your best bet is to go to a site line DownDetector and see if it isn’t just you… or you can simply do what I did this afternoon, I went to http://www.google.ca and typed in Is Facebook Down.  Behold, my answer! (as well as proof that my Internet connection was working)

Now, with the major Facebook outage, who wants to bet that overall productivity in the affected areas will increase?

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Another Way To Scam You…

This morning I got this text message:

There is only one problem: I do not now, nor (to the best of my recollection) have I ever banked with Scotiabank.

Don’t look now folks, but the bad guys have found another way to try to steal your money. Text Message Phishing. This one is easily spotted.

However: should you ever get a message from your bank, be it by email, text, or semaphores, do not click on any links. If you suspect it is real, call the number on your bank card (or your branch if you have a personal connection).

This summer I was walking off the golf course and I just missed a call from my actual bank. I pressed call-back. The agent did not ask for my information because my bank has voice recognition, and he said;

Mr. Garvis, never press call-back to the bank, and if you do, never give them any personal information. The scammers keep getting better, and they are spoofing our Caller ID instead of simply calling from their overseas numbers.

This was excellent advice, and I will continue to follow it. So should you.

Oh, and if anyone here reads semaphores and can explain how to embed a link, I would love to know.

The Safety of Ottawa…

Red_Maple_Leaf.svgYesterday MacLean’s Magazine posted their index of the most dangerous (crime-related) cities in Canada.  Ottawa, where I currently live, placed a comfortable 145th on the list.  I’m good with that – I do not expect to be jumped by a group of marauding bandits when I walk down the street.

What I found interesting about the list is that no city in the Top 10 is east of Manitoba.  In fact, of the top 20, only three are east of Manitoba – Pembroke, ON (11), Stratford, ON (12), and Cobourg, ON (18).  The highest ranking Maritime city is Amherst, NS (26), and the most dangerous city in Quebec (and the only Quebec city below #99) is Thetford Mines (45).

Of the other Canadian municipalities where I have lived:

  • Halton Region (Oakville, Burlington) ranks 96th
  • Mississauga (and Brampton) ranks 124th
  • Montreal ranks 211th

I don’t walk down the street anywhere in Canada worrying that I am going to get jumped… but I wonder what it is about Western Canada that makes it so much more dangerous than Eastern Canada.

Oh well… maybe it’s the maple syrup that is keeping Quebec calm?

 

 

Electile Disfunction

Tomorrow our friends to the south (I’m in Canada… for the more geographically challenged, I am referring to the United States of America.  Yes, I know about Alaska being part of the USA and being to the north… can we just get on with it?  Thank you.) are going to the polls.  The mid-term elections will see 35 and 435 members of Congress elected.  Additionally, 36 state governors will be elected.  There is little doubt in my mind that the next ninety-six hours will see wall to wall election coverage and spin.  For the political fiends out there it will be glorious.  For the rest it will be overkill.

I have been watching the US political landscape over the past thirty or so years, and I have seen some unfortunate trends; the worst of them, bar none, is the schism that has grown between the opposite ends of the political spectrum.  Thirty years ago it would have been acceptable for people on the left to be friends with people on the right.  Today, it seems harder even for people on the far-right to be polite with the people on the median-right, let alone the people on the far-left.  There is so much hatred, so much disrespect, so much vitriol that it is hard to remember that these people are all citizens of the same country.

19-094514-dating_a_democrat_vs_dating_a_republican

I hope that someone will find a way to start mending these fences.  I hope that the two sides of the spectrum begin to realize that they are all Americans, and that they all, for the most part, seem to think their country is pretty great… and it is.  Can it be better?  Sure, every place can be.  America is a project that started 242 years ago and has been evolving ever since.  Parts have gotten better – the amber waves of grain across America’s breadbasket are truly a sight to behold.  Have parts gotten worse?  Sure – the poverty, crime, and violence of the inner cities is sad and needs to be solved.  There is no more slavery, but there is still a racial divide.  All of these are unfortunate aspects of a great country that can be fixed.

We in Canada love our American neighbours, even if we don’t always show it… there has been a lot of disrespect over the years, and I am sorry for it.  I hate seeing it, but understand where some of it comes from… because we are not perfect either.

When we wake up Wednesday morning there will be changes to the political landscape… candidates elected or re-elected, lame ducks looking for work.  I do not know which political party will have a majority in the Senate and Congress.  I do know that I wish that all Americans, whoever wins, will find a way to mend the wounds that are clearly tearing the country apart.  I hope that at some point the country can begin to heal… and one day truly be the great nation that your founding fathers yearned for.

 

Remember

It is that time of year again.

The debate over when to put up Christmas decorations has begun.  The minute Halloween is over, people rush to put them up.  Within a few short days, we go from Orange and Black with spooky melodies to Green and Red with cheerful melodies.  I hate it.

I have in the past been accused of being anti-Christmas.  I am not.  While it is not my holiday, I respect everyone’s right to celebrate their holidays however they see fit.  After all, I would not expect anyone to criticize how I celebrate my holidays.  I will buy my children Christmas presents, although I will also buy them Hanukkah presents.

What does bother me is this: On November 11th we honour Remembrance Day.  It is the one day of the year put aside for civilians to do what veterans do every day of our lives: remember the fallen.  It is to remember our brothers who did not make it.  It is a day for us to share our stories with them… these stories that to them sound like the unlikely plots of a movie, but which for us was once the reality.

Is it really so much to ask that, when retelling our memories to our children and others, we not have Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and other holiday jingles detract from the solemnity of our stories?

All gave some.  Some gave all.  We are not asking you to give anything except to wait twelve more days before putting up your tinsel, holly, and mistletoe.  We ask only that you maintain the solemnity of one single day and yes… that means waiting until November 12th to put up your decorations.

No Bah Humbug, just a passionate plea from someone who remembers every day of his life.

PowerISO: Doing it right

If you would have asked me in the late 1990s when CDs (remember CD-RW?) were starting to replace floppy drives as the primary storage method for desktop PCs and servers if we were ever going to see a day when they were obsolete, the short-sighted young adult that I was would likely have said no.  The smarter answer would have been ‘probably… but not for a while.’

Well here we are… CDs have come and gone… to a point.  The CDFS file system is alive and well… and so is the .ISO file that is an image of the CD or DVD.

Earlier this week a client came to me perplexed.  “Mitch, your instructions for transferring the data to an air-gapped virtual machine is to create an ISO file and then mount it.  How do I do that?”

I started to answer that you log in to vCenter Server, click on the virtual machine’s settings, but the client stopped me.  “No, I mean how do I create an ISO file?  I can’t find any way to do it in Windows.”

For the last few versions, Microsoft Windows has had the ability to mount an ISO file.  In File Explorer you navigate to where the file is located, you right-click and select Mount.  Simple as that, you can read your ISO file.  It is, just like most CDs, read-only… but you can copy the contents to your local machine.  Why then, one might ask, is there no option to create the ISO files?  This functionality requires a third-party tool.

Of course, in a datacenter environment, the primary reason one would likely be creating ISOs is to transfer information to virtual servers.  And it’s not only about creating ISOs, but burning CDs for music, DVDs for movies (or whatever other data you might want to put onto CDs and DVDs).  This goes both ways… Until Windows Vista, if you popped a music CD into your computer, Windows Media Player automatically ripped the music to your hard drive.  From what I recall, the music industry (under the guise of the Recording Industry Association of America) asked them to put a stop to that… and they did.  Did this stop people pirating music?  Of course not.  What it did do was make it hard for people who share their own music (or other types of audio recordings).

ISO3

So what is the solution?  You could fight with Microsoft to have them introduce all of this functionality back into File Explorer… or you could install an inexpensive piece of software that I have been using for years called PowerISO.  This compact tool (the download is just over 5MB) gives you the functionality to work with not only ISOs, but also CDs, DVDs, and Blueray discs.  You can rip and convert audio files, you can even make virtual floppy drive images (again, not something there is huge call for these days, but occasionally…).

ISO1As you can see, the media options are vast… So if you try to create an ISO file and it tells you that you are out of space, it is possible you are working with a smaller image file than you need – say, a 700MB CD instead of a 4.7GB DVD.  This tool literally does everything I need when it comes to either creating media or media files.  In the years I have been using it I have never tried to open a file it created to find it corrupted.  If I need a bootable image, that’s not a problem.  It simply works.

There are a number of competing products out there, but for my money, this is the one to buy.  It is compatible with every version of Windows dating back to Windows 98, it comes in either 32-bit or 64-bit (make sure you grab the appropriate installer), and it does everything that I need.  I first downloaded it in 2005, and have been using it ever since.  Of course, back then I didn’t need an external DVD player to connect to my computer!

PowerISO

Surface Pro Battery Woe

PINCFriday afternoon I had a Skype meeting, and as I was settling into the board room at my office for quiet, I realized the battery on my Surface Pro 4 was at 0%.  I plugged it in, and got the feedback: “Plugged in, Not charging.”  Okay, I would be careful to not yank the power cord for the duration of the meeting.

I spent the weekend with friends in Montreal.  Rick lamented, as he often does, that he hates the preponderance of devices with no serviceable parts; for example: he uses an old smartphone because he wants to be able to replace the battery.  I poo-pooed his unwillingness to accept progress.  He isn’t wrong, of course.  Planned obsolescence is a terrible thing, and the fact that the Apple Corporation expects me to replace my phone every two years is infuriating.  What’s worse, is that I do.

DB1Karma came calling Saturday evening, when I plugged my Surface in to charge overnight.  It is now about three and a half years old, beyond the warranty.  I have not looked into replacing the battery, but I would not expect it is a easy process.  It is not something I had ever given a lot of thought to… until Sunday morning, when the device (which had been plugged in overnight) still had a dead battery.  I packed it up and decided I would look at it when I got home… I was not looking forward to thinking about it.

As I sat comfortably in front of the TV later that evening, I decided that before anything else, I would try to plug the device in to a different charger.  A defective charger would have been the best outcome, if the problem was to be defective hardware.  I have three chargers, and even if I only had the one, it would be a lot less expensive to replace one of those than the device itself.  Unfortunately, I got the same “Not charging” message as I had with my main charger.

DB2I went online and looked to Microsoft for support.  The first recommendation is to apply the latest patches, drivers, and firmware.  Okay.  An hour later, and I am facing the same results.  Crap.

There is a Microsoft Surface Diagnostic Toolkit that they recommend trying next.  I downloaded it and installed it, and it went through a number of tests before asking me to reboot.  I rebooted, and once I authenticated the Toolkit continued to run automatically.  After a few minutes it asked me to reboot again.  I did, and when the system came back up, it no longer gave me the same notice.  It told me that my battery was at 0%, and it was 3h02m from a full charge.  I wasn’t sure if this was true or not, but I was happy to see progress.  I left the device to charge and went to sleep.

This morning I packed up the device and brought it to the office, where it is currently sitting at 91% charged.  Seeing as it has only been turned on for about half an hour, and I have not been working on it, I am not hopeful that the battery life will now be what it once was… but at least it is not dead.  I am going to drain the battery and recharge it overnight a couple of times, and hopefully that will get it back to sorts.

Unfortunately I understand that battery life diminishes (often greatly) over time.  It is not unusual, and it is one of the reasons I agree with Rick… I wish I could go out and simply buy a new battery for my device, and replace it at will.  Or, better yet, have two batteries that I could interchange, doubling the device life.  I used to do that with my smartphones.  Those days are gone… at least, when it comes to higher end tablet and hybrid devices, where every microgram is conserved, and where the term user-serviceable is laughable.

I am wracking my brain trying to think when the last time I had a primary device that lasted this long.  Certainly not in the last decade, and possibly not since the days when my primary device was a desktop tower.  My Surface Pro 4 has certainly given me everything I could have expected; that does not mean that I am ready to trash it just yet.  It is a good device that still does absolutely everything I need… not to mention that to replace it with a nearly identical configuration (modernized for today, so a Surface Pro 6 with an i7 CPU, 16GB RAM, and 512GB storage) would cost CDN$2,400 plus tax to replace… if (and that’s a big if) I was to replace it with another Microsoft Surface device.

My current crisis was averted.  With the battery working again, I am no longer faced with the immediate threat of having to replace my device (or even pay to have it fixed).  While I am thrilled by that, I am reminded that it is something that I will eventually have to think about.  I suppose it is the computer industry’s equivalent of an aging parent having a health scare; it was only a scare, but it reminds you that you will, at some point (and likely sooner than you would like) have to deal with the unpleasant reality.

Now excuse me, while I call my aging father.

The Dangling Control Panel

Once upon a time, the Windows Control Panel was an easy to navigate set of icons that consolidated in one place all of the administrative tasks we would need, both as an end user and as a desktop administrator.

CP1

Things change, systems evolve.  The Control Panel that we knew in Windows XP evolved, through Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8/8.1.

CP2

There was a lot more to do, which meant a lot more icons; and so, Microsoft introduced us to the Categories View.

When Windows 10 was released, people lamented that the Control Panel was no longer so easy to find.  It was, actually… all you had to do was open the Context Menu of the Windows button; a simple right-click (or Windows Key + X) opened it, and your Control Panel was listed right there…

CP3…Until it wasn’t.  I think it was Windows 10 1703 that no longer had Control Panel there.  Fortunately, and this is true to this day, you could still click on the Windows button and type Control Panel and it would appear… just like always.

The default view of the Control Panel has not changed extensively over the past few years.  The Category View has eight (8) categories, and clicking each one opens up a world of possibilities.  For example, opening the System and Security context reveals a series of sub-menus that include Security and Maintenance, Windows Firewall, System, Power Options, File History, Backup and Restore (Windows 7), BitLocker Drive Encryption, Storage Spaces, Work Folders, Administrative Tools, Flash Player, and Configuration Manager… the final two only appearing when those tools are installed on the box.  Each of these, in turn, provides another sub-menu similar to this one.  All in all, we see why it is that Microsoft opted to display the Category View by default.

With that said, some people do not want the Category View… they long for the good old days of having your icons appear by default.  No problem, this is easy enough to fix; in the upper-right corner of the window, change the drop-down option from Category to either Large Icons or Small Icons.  You will get the following display:

CP5To be sure, these forty-four icons do not offer the entire functionality of all of the sub-categories of the Category View… but you will almost certainly have what you are looking for.  Many of the common icons that are missing will be located under Administrative Tools.  (I notice ODBC Data Sources are missing off the top of my head).

CP6With the later versions of Windows 10, Microsoft is trying to get people to do everything the new way; legacy is out (this the Control Panel has been replaced by the Settings window),

It would be hard to count the number of people who have told me how much they hate this interface, and have asked me how they can revert to the old ways.

The bad news is this: while the old Control Panel has been deprecated, it is still in the latest release… even if a lot of the icons lead to the newthink way of doing things.  If you want to do things the old way, then follow me… quietly, because especially in this day and age, Big Brother is watching!

  1. Right-click on your desktop and click New – Folder.
  2. Name the folder Admin.{ED7BA470-8E54-465E-825C-99712043E01C}

This will create a shortcut on your desktop that has no name, but looks like this:

Admin

Within that shortcut, you will find direct links to every Control Panel icon that you would have had over the past eighteen years of Windows… while they are sorted into categories (and much easier to understand than the Category View in Control Panel today), they are all their… all two hundred and twenty-four options, divided into thirty-seven categories.

CP7Best of all?  most of them take you to the oldthink way of doing things… not to the touch-friendly Windows 10 ways which are usually dumbed down.  So the Add or remove programs icon takes you to the familiar screen that you see below, rather than the Apps & Features context of the Windows 10 Settings menu.

While this menu that we have all known forever is accessible somewhere within Windows 10, through the Admin shortcut (which was until Windows 8.1 actually called the Admin shortcut) it is simple.  So is networking, and whatever else you want to configure.

Windows is changing.  I have always smirked when people would ask ‘Why can’t they just leave it the way it was?’ The simple answer is that Microsoft is changing things, and that is their right.  Most of the time, it is for the better… including the Settings vs. Control Panel… but that doesn’t mean that those of us who got used to the old way always have to change right away.  We can do it gradually, and I hope we do…

…Because one day we are going to deploy the new Windows 10, and the oldspeak way will be gone.  We love Big Brother.

 

 

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Windows 10?

Yes, it has actually happened.  The title of this article is a callback to The Sounds of Music.  My ex-girlfriend (who will not be reading this article) would be proud.

On October 4th I wrote an article called Windows 10 1809: What’s New.  I was all excited.  Two days later I wrote 1809 Recalled.  Microsoft has since re-released the semi-annual release of Windows 10… and has once again recalled it.

Microsoft has flip-flopped on a particular issue over the last fifteen years, and it is now coming back to bite them.  I remember being upset as a community leader when the MVPs were not invited to beta-test Windows 7.  With Windows 10, they essentially laid off many of their dedicated testers and decided to rely solely on the community to test the semi-annual releases of the flagship operating system.  Guys, that is not what I meant.  A compromise would have been to allow the community to test it, while still doing internal testing as well.

So here we are, a couple of days from November, and the September release of Windows 10 is not out yet.  Is that a bad thing?  I don’t know… I have read a few interesting articles and have to agree that the semi-annual channel may be a bad idea; would it be such a disaster to release a new Windows once a year instead of twice?  Tell me, please… was anyone complaining when there were the operating system was on a three-year cycle?  Were throngs of corporate users picketing in the streets of Redmond waving signs that said ‘Down With Windows 7! We Want Windows 8!’  I spent a great deal of time in Redmond during those years, and I do not remember any such protests.  In fact, from what I can tell, corporate customers were so happy with Windows 7 that most of them never deployed Windows 8, and to this day many of them (41.59% of users according to a survey released in March) are still on that OS, three years into the Windows 10 era.

If we are unsure about this, let’s take a quick gander at what great new features we are thrilled about in Windows 10 1809:

  • Windows Explorer Dark Theme
  • Right-Click to Open Linux Shell
  • Clipboard History
  • Game Bar
  • Game Mode
  • Battery Level Indicator for connected Bluetooth devices
  • Data Usage Monitor for different networks
  • HD Color on Windows Settings page
  • On-Screen Keyboard SwiftKey Intelligence
  • 157 new emojis

Is there anyone else who thinks that, with regard to recent Windows 10 updates, the most important emoji of all seems to be this one?

poop

I have been a Windows user for over thirty years.  I believe I have used every single version since Windows 1.0 was released.  It took until Windows XP Service Pack 2 to start getting used to the feeling that my operating system was going to be stable and 100% usable.  It took until Windows 7 for me to start getting used to Windows being the cool kid’s OS, and that Windows was starting to be the basis for a secure, well-managed desktop environment.  With Windows 10 I was happy that I would continue to receive incremental improvements every six months… that is, until now.

Yes, I said it.  There may have been hiccoughs along the way, but Windows 10, which I have been using since its release, has been good to me.  Yes, I know, there are people who were unhappy when the Control Panel disappeared from the Windows Context Menu… but it was still there, if you looked for it!  Like so many of you, I am upset every time something that I’ve been doing the same way since Windows 2000 has suddenly changed… but a) you can’t stop progress, and b) if you really like doing things the old way, there’s usually a way to do it! (Click the Start Menu and type Control Panel… see what I mean?)

That brings us to the autumn of 2018… and the new release of Windows 10 is not deleting your shortcuts; rather, it is deleting your data.  Not only from your computer, mind you… Oh no, that would be too soft.  It is deleting cloud data as well!  You remember the cloud… Where Microsoft and everyone else has been swearing up and down that you should be storing your data, because nothing is ever lost from the Cloud?  Yeah, there… Say goodbye, unless you have a recent and reliable non-Cloud backup.

Is this all happening because Microsoft’s community testers (Windows Insiders) are unreliable?  No.  The Insiders reported this issue months ago.  The problem is with how bugs are prioritized; if not enough people voted for your bug, it gets lost at the bottom.  Not important.  Irrelevant.  Would this be the case if Microsoft still had an in-house professional engineering team devoted to full-time testing of real-world scenarios?  Probably not.

The Windows Insiders are not to blame; even if they never reported the problem they are not to blame.  President Harry Truman had a sign on his desk at the White House that said The Buck Stops Here (pictured).  He was the president, and whatever his people may have done, it was his responsibility.

Buck

Likewise, whatever Microsoft’s testers may find, they do not work for Microsoft.  It is incumbent upon Microsoft to release a reliable program, even if their community testers do not find every bug.  With that said, it is unconscionable that the Windows Insiders actually did report this bug, and Microsoft did nothing about it.

Someone at Microsoft decided that we need a new release of Windows 10 every six months.  They are breaking their backs to release a new version of the operating system on that schedule, and rather than miss their target they have now a number of times released a product before it was ready for prime time.

Andrew Orlowski wrote a great piece for The Register last week called Memo to Microsoft: Windows 10 is broken, and the fixes can’t wait. I read this piece with great interest because so much of what he writes mirrors my own opinions.  Read the piece, and you will understand what so many of us have been feeling.  It is time for Microsoft to admit that there is a problem, and to address it.

Okay, we get it… Microsoft wanted everyone to be on Windows 10, and they have moved heaven and earth to make that happen.  They have spent a few iterations getting this wrong, but they seem to have finally come up with a coherent, stable release/support cycle.  I don’t particularly care for it, but they didn’t ask my opinion so there it is.  By the new calendar, Windows 10 1709, which was possibly the last really good and stable release, will be supported until April 14, 2020… about a year and a half from now.  Because of the diminishing QA, Windows 10 1803 was not extremely well received, and Windows 10 1809 is still missing in action.

Let’s assume for a minute that with the crap show that has become of Version 1809, no company with an even slightly conservative Director of IT will touch it, even if it was released tomorrow with $10 bills attached to every deployed instance.  That means that if a company skipped Version 1803 – either because of issues, or simply because they decided to skip a version – then the next scheduled release that they would be looking at is Spring of 2019… and since Spring releases going forward (according to the newest calendar) will only be supported for 18 months from the date of release, most conservative corporations will really be looking at the Autumn, 2019 release… with Autumn releases getting 30 months of support instead of 18 months.

Okay, let’s say the Contoso Corporation (you see what I did there?) opts to skip from Version 1709 to Version Autumn, 2019.  That means that from the release date of the new version they would only have six months to run all of their tests and then to deploy the new operating system to every desktop, laptop, hybrid, and tablet in their organization before the End of Support date of April 14, 2020 comes around.  If Contoso has 500 endpoints and 25 applications that won’t be a problem.  If Contoso has 70,000 endpoints and 250 applications… well, there’s going to be a problem.

So what is the solution?  Well for one thing, Microsoft has to a) recognize that this is a problem; b) mitigate the current situation in a way that will allow Contoso (and all of the real companies out there) some breathing room; and c) Fix the underlying problem and stop making us feel like unpaid beta-testers.

I stopped beta-testing operating systems with Windows 8.1.  It isn’t simply because I stopped being a Microsoft MVP; I lived on the bleeding edge from Windows 2003 through 2015, and frankly I grew tired of it.  I like having a stable operating system to work with, and I find I am more productive for it.  I have, however, deployed each version of Windows 10 the day that it was available to me, and it is only by the grace of a broken USB key that I deployed Version 1809 to a Windows to Go key that day, rather than to my production machines.  That USB key has since been re-provisioned to Version 1803, and I don’t have any plans to upgrade it (or my production machines) any time soon.  Leading Edge is okay… Bleeding Edge just hurts.

 

Drivers? Drive Me!

By now, it is likely that I do not need to explain to you that a hardware driver is a piece of software that allows your computer (through the operating system) to communicate with a hardware component.  You know that, right?  Good.

You are ready to install a new operating system on your computer.  You do not want to perform an in-place upgrade, you really want to install it from scratch.  The question is: What drivers do you need?

I saw this question come across my Twitter feed the other day, and there were a couple of really good answers.

  • Use the Windows System Information, which can be saved to a text file; or
  • Use the driverquery command line tool.

As you know, I am a big fan of using the command line, so let’s use this one (which I already knew, but since Buck Woody (@BuckWoodyMSFT) posted it in his Twitter reply, I will credit him)

driverquery /v /fo csv >drvlist.csv

The switches:

  • /v gives you the verbose list.
  • /fo specifies the format of the list
  • csv means the formatting is Comma Separated Value
  • >driverlist.csv is the name of the file that it will save.

So when we run this on my current computer, we get an output that looks like this:

drivers

Of course, it is 385 lines long, but I am happy to share a snippet.  I opened the fine in Excel, and I formatted the titles as bold and underlined.

Of course, you may want to filter it to only RUNNING drivers, but the truth is, there are several drivers that are STOPPED that should still be reinstalled with your new operating system… I see the WacomPen driver near the bottom, and while it is stopped, I do occasionally use my stylus, at which point it will be started.

Most users do not, on a daily basis, need to know (or really care) what drivers are installed in their computer.  Everything works, they are happy.  When you are re-installing your operating system, you have several things you need to gather… a list of installed applications, but also your drivers.  By keeping this list handy, you will not be at the mercy of Plug and Play technology finding everything – including your video drivers – correctly.

(You should notice that all of your drivers are stored in the c:\WIndows\system32\drivers\ directory, so it might be a good idea to copy this directory to an external device before starting.  That directory on my computer is 106MB, so not too bad.  This includes two video drivers, which are often the largest (The two that I have are both around 7MB each))

Something else that you should remember when re-installing Windows, there are still some drivers (especially print drivers) that do not want you to simply installl the drivers; they want to install their entire application suite. If that is the case, make sure you have the installables handy.

With Windows 10 Version 1809 set to be re-released sometime soon, this might just come in handy for some of us!

Does Microsoft Listen?

You were all excited to upgrade your existing Windows 10 installation to the Fall 2018 update.  On October 2nd you downloaded the bits to Version 1809.  You installed it, using the same in-place upgrade process you have been using for years.  You realize that you have lost data… crucial data… a lot of it.  You hope (even as you understand the futility of it) that reverting back to the previous version (say… Version 1803) will restore your data.

It doesn’t.  You knew that it wouldn’t… but you are disappointed nonetheless.

Fortunately, you have the EaseUs Data Recovery Wizard Pro (or realize you need it badly, and you go online to buy it), and you are able to (relatively) easily recover your lost data.  You have lost a few hours of your time, and more importantly, you have learned a valuable lesson… sometimes the leading edge is going to cost you.

The truth is, mistakes happen.  As soon as Microsoft discovered this flaw in their new version, they immediately made an announcement and pulled the bits from their download site.  That doesn’t mean that people are not going to get it elsewhere, but there is only so much that a company like Microsoft can control.  Mistakes do happen, and they will learn from their mistakes, right?

Here’s the problem… Microsoft has several tiers of users for Windows 10.  Most of us are on the regular semi-annual channel.  There are users on the fast-track channel for Windows Insiders who started seeing and reporting this bug (on the Microsoft Feedback Hub, where we are supposed to report bugs in pre-release technology) months ago.  Hey, Microsoft!  When I tried to install the latest bits that you sent, it deleted my data! There have been reports like this for months, and yet it was ignored.

So what’s the point?  If Microsoft is not paying attention, why bother reporting on problems?  Microsoft is swearing up and down that they won’t do this again… but how many times have they done this before?  With earlier releases of Windows 10… Windows 8, Windows 7, Microsoft Office?  This is far from the first time… so why would believe them when they say that it will be the last time?

Liam Tung wrote a very good piece for ZDNet last week that described the issue, and how the Microsoft Feedback Hub works.  He quotes does a very good job of explaining how Feedback Hub works, and how it is likely that the “…tons of reports in Feedback about data loss on upgrade” did not get voted on or grouped together, resulting in the problem being buried.

There was a time when you had to be chosen to be a beta-tester for Windows, and you were chosen based on several factors, not the least of which was community participation.  Microsoft listened to us because they respected us.  Today, when anyone can flip a switch and become a Windows Insider (essentially a modern-day beta tester), there is no common voice, and everyone throws their comments online without looking at other comments, which means mistakes like this are going to happen.  Maybe it is time for Microsoft to admit that their communities (which they were once so supportive of) were the best line of defense they had against disastrous mistakes like this.

Of course, Microsoft is not too big on admitting they made mistakes, and the one they just admitted to is a pretty big one, so I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Windows To Go: State of Mitch’s Union

I have been writing about Windows to Go (WTG) since Windows 8 was in beta, and I have not stopped because frankly, I think it truly is an amazing tool.  I have never really gone without a WTG key, but there have been times when it has been much more important… namely, when I was working for another company.

When I was running SWMI Consulting Group I always had my personal laptop joined to my corporate domain, and it was easy to simply segregate business and pleasure by maintaining separate profiles.  Log off – Log on – all good.

When I was with Microsoft and Rakuten I always on contract; I maintained completely separate laptops for both, but I also provisioned WTG keys for both domains because frankly I got tired of carrying both laptops with me… or even having to make sure I had the right laptop with me when I left the house.

Now that I am with Cistel, I have a corporate laptop which I think I once took to a client’s site, mainly because I prefer my personal device… but I would never think of connecting my personal device to the domain at a client’s site, especially since there are Secret Clearance issues involved.  Once again, Windows to Go provided me with the perfect solution.  I always have a WTG key provisioned that is joined to the Cistel corporate domain, which I boot into whenever I am at my client’s site… or anywhere else other than my desk at Cistel, where my corporate laptop acts as a very expensive desktop computer.

KingstonThe list of USB keys that I have used for Windows to Go over the years is long and comprehensive.  I started out with the Kingston DT Ultimate and then the Super Talent RC8 (32GB), which were essentially the inexpensive ways to go.  Before I joined Rakuten someone gave me a Kingston Data Traveler (also 32GB), which I believe I used for a few weeks before giving to my assistant in Tokyo.  You get what you pay for of course… the Kingston now holds music for my car stereo, and the Super Talent went into the garbage at some point because it would not stay connected.

IronkeyThe first device that was truly a professional grade Windows to Go key that I got was the Imation IronKey Workspace.  Actually I had (and still have) two of these… the W300 is a spectacular key that is not hardware encrypted, and it still works brilliantly.  The W500 is hardware encrypted, which I thought was spectacular, and for a couple of years was why I used this one as my always provisioned Windows to Go device.   Unfortunately when Kingston bought Imation they stopped supporting it, and while they say it should still work, I have not been able to provision it with any version of Windows later than Windows 10 v1703.

Spyrus WSPThat leaves Spyrus.  I have been wracking my brain for when and where I picked up the Spyrus Worksafe Pro device, and while I think I figured it out, it doesn’t really matter… This is the device that is my current go-to Windows to Go device… and has been since earlier this year when I gave up on the IronKey W500.  The Spyrus Worksafe Pro is a spectacular device that is military-grade security, hardware encrypted, and yes… still supported.  I have had my Worksafe Pro (64GB) configured on the Cistel domain since April… so about six months.  It is solid, reliable, and it goes everywhere I need to go.  I love the fact that unlike all of the other keys mentioned, its cap is attached, so impossible to lose.  Unless something drastic changes, this is what I will be using for the foreseeable future.

Honourable Mention

ApricornThere is one more device that I have used for WTG, and I still carry it wherever I go.  The Apricorn Aegis Secure Key 3z Flash Drive is unique to this group in that it has a physical keypad, and cannot connect to anything unless that key has been entered.  Enter the key incorrectly too many times, and your key self-destructs… that is, the security certificate that decrypts your information on the key does, and the data is useless.  I got the Apricorn earlier this year, and I really do like it… it is not actually Windows to Go Certified, but it works nonetheless.  However, I decided to use it for other purposes – i.e.: as a portable storage device.  As great as it works for WTG is how great it is as portable storage.

I spoke with a representative from Apricorn earlier this year, and they told me that they did not go through the Windows to Go Certification program because it doesn’t seem there is anyone at Microsoft focusing on this anymore.  I did not reach out to Microsoft to confirm, but I do like the key, and I use it on an (almost) daily basis… just not for WTG.

Never Tried

Of the brands that were actually certified for Windows to Go by Microsoft, the only one that I never tried was the WD My Passport Enterprise.  I actually have a couple of these drives, and have never had an issue with them.  I also never thought that they would make an ideal WTG drive, simply because, for me, WTG is something I can carry in my pocket.  If I am carrying a laptop bag, I might as well carry a laptop.  Yes, I know, there are reasons… the bottom line is I never tried it.

Actuality

As I finish this piece, I am working on my Spyrus Worksafe Pro WTG key, chiefly because I am sitting at my client site waiting for them to get back to me on something.  Over the last few weeks this drive has seen a lot of action.  I found a bug in either Windows 10, the Surface Pro 4 firmware, or the key itself that has been driving me batty, and I have been working with the Spyrus engineers to see if we can fix it.  After the first ten minutes of my first call with them we figured a work-around, so I am able to continue to work.  I was worried because they were not able to reproduce the problem, and it wasn’t until Day 6 that they discovered that another member of their team is having the same problem.  Believe me, it is not an issue that I will worry about, because the workaround is a single key stroke… and frankly, it might be that last deterrent before a hacker (who has already stolen the physical key and hacked the twenty-two character complex password to get this far) would get into the environment… or, at least, to the point where he could guess my complex password to get into that environment.

Partly because of the bug, and partly because it was that time, last week I re-deployed the key with Windows 10 version 1809… and then just like that, mostly because I was working with the Spyrus engineers but also partly because Microsoft recalled version 1809, I re-deployed the key with Windows 10 version 1803.  It (the key) has been joined and un-joined and then rejoined to the Cistel corporate network more times in the last week than I care to count.  I have deployed and then redeployed all of the software that I consider necessary for the environment, including:

  • Microsoft Intune client (anti-malware, etc…)
  • Microsoft Office 365
  • Techsmith SnagIt
  • VPN software and connections
  • Google Chrome
  • My password vault management tools
  • Skype for Business
  • ZoomIt
  • BGInfo

and, of course, so that I can write these blog articles for you,

  • Open Live Writer.

One day I might look into creating a deployment environment that builds the keys for me, so that whenever a new version of Windows 10 does come out, I just have to press a few buttons… but the truth is that I don’t mind installing these applications by hand… it’s not that tough, and it is something I can usually do while doing something else.  Besides, there is no better example of the truism “The shoemaker’s children go barefoot!”

That pesky single-USB port device…

The system that I use most often for my WTG environment is my Microsoft Surface Pro 4 hybrid.  Yes, some people love it, others hate it.  I’ve been using a Surface Pro since the day it was released in 2012, and I am happy to sacrifice a few minor things for the lightweight portability and flexibility.  Unfortunately, one of those ‘minor things’ you have to give up (out of the box) is multiple USB ports… and when your only USB port is taken over by your primary hard drive (as is the case with WTG), you may find yourself in a bit of a pickle… file-1enter my friends at Juiced Systems, who make a device called a Universal USB 3.0 Media Adapter (pictured), which takes that single USB port and makes it two, plus adds both an SD Card and Micro-SD Card adapters.  Strictly speaking, I seem to recall that when Microsoft announced WTG, they said specifically that it will only be supported when connected directly to the computer, and not through a USB-hub or docking station.  Supported or not, it works, and I am happy with the performance.

What you may notice in the picture is that the Spyrus Worksafe Pro is not only connected to the media adapter, but even at that it is connected by a USB cable.  That is because the device itself is wider than most USB devices, and would otherwise prevent connecting the second USB device.  Fortunately, the 3” cable is solid and an easy workaround.

So where are we?

Windows to Go is one of the features that I thought was going to be a huge game changer for Windows when Windows 8 was released (see article).  Unfortunately, I have not seen as much adoption as I expected; in the six years since it was released, I have encountered a few, but not many, organizations that have adopted it.  The excitement and buzz that was felt in the room at MVP Nation, the event where I demonstrated it for the first time at a public event, did not convert into the masses running out to buy compatible devices and evangelizing it to their customers.

So be it.  I have, over the course of my career, backed a lot of technologies.  Some of them were home runs (Hyper-V, System Center), others… not so much (Windows Phone, Essential Business Server).  I know of a lot of features in Windows that are lesser-used, but they leave them in because… well, why not?  I hope that Windows To Go does stick around; I do not know what the worldwide adoption is, but I use it, I love it, and frankly, I rely on it.  If you use it, I would love to hear from you… how do you use it?  What do you use it for?  What device (or devices) do you use?

Have a great weekend!

BSOD Issue: Nothing to do with Windows Updates

This week many users were working on their computers and received a Blue Screen Of Death. It started happening right after a Windows Update cycle, so it stood to reason… right?

Wrong.

In this particular case, a vendor driver (I believe it was with HP) started causing issues. Not good… but not catastrophic.

Why am I writing this? Simple. If I were to draw up a list of he most important steps to take to keep your computer safe from intrusion and malware, patch management would have to be in the top two or three. No question, every time. Don’t ignore them because you don’t trust them.

Microsoft releases patches on a monthly cycle. Some of these patches are features, other types of improvements, and whatnot… and some of them are security updates. If you are not a power user, apply them, period. If you are a power user, you might want to do some sort of testing, or maybe check online forums with people who do, and then apply them. If you are a massive corporation with huge IT infrastructure, test them and then apply them.

Do you see a pattern forming here? I am not saying that you have to apply every patch… but most of us don’t know how to pick and choose, so yes! Apply every patch!

As for the bad ones… they happen. Not often mind you, but from time to time. When that happens, read the blogosphere to see how to remove them, or to avoid them.

You wouldn’t stop eating cucumbers because you got one bad cuke, would you? I didn’t think so. Apply your patches and stay safe 😉

Face Recognition Issue in Windows 10

file1Before anyone gets upset, let me be clear that there is no issue with Facial Recognition in Windows 10… at least, not that I am aware of.  It is not a security flaw; rather, it is a usability issue that I have with the functionality.

I have several computers that I use on a regular basis, and many of them have several accounts – personal, corporate, test, and so on.  Because Windows is trying to be helpful, the second I ask to log on, it looks to see if I am there… it sees me, and it logs me on to the account I did not want to use.  Ok, so I log off that account, and before I can log on to the appropriate account… It sees me and it logs me on to the other account again! Really, there seem to be a number of ways around this:

  1. Cover the camera until I enter my password for the correct account;
  2. Wear a mask (or other appropriate face covering that would likely not be sanctioned by the Gouvernement du Quebec; or
  3. Disable the Face Recognition feature.

fileFacial recognition is a great technological advancement… and if you are only using the one account, you should be fine.  If, however, you have to switch between accounts, then you may agree with me that there are better ways of implementing it.  I recommend, if the product team is interested:

Hey! It looks like we see Mitch Garvis (personal) sitting at the computer.  Would you like to log on to that account?  Say ‘Yes’ to continue.

Remember when you first set up your Windows 10?  Cortana wouldn’t stop talking about how happy she was to help you… why can’t she be helpful here? “Hey, is that really you, Mitch?  Stroke your beard to continue!” …or something equally mundane and simple.  Not “I see you, and you best not even think you can hide from me, Mitch!”

I have decided to turn the Face Recognition (that is not a mistake… Microsoft refers to it as Face, and not Facial recognition) feature off for now… at least, on the devices with 3D cameras.  It’s too bad… A lot of people may want my passwords, but nobody really wants to look like me!