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

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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!

PowerShell: A Colourful Experience

4214_Powershell20blore-logo_png-550x0.pngOne of the topics I inject into every one of my classes (and frankly, most of my customer conversations) is how to do whatever we are doing in PowerShell.  Scripting is one of the ways I make my life easier, and I recommend my students and customers use the knowledge I share to make their lives easier.

One of the differences between a Command Shell window and a PowerShell window is the colours.  Command Shell is white type on a black background.  PowerShell is a blue background, with the type colours varying depending on the context… Yellow for cmdlets, red for errors, and so on.

One of my students recently told me that because of the issues he has with his eyes, he has trouble reading the red writing on the blue background, and asked if there was a way to change it.  I honestly had never thought of it… so I decided to do some research.

It turns out, according to what I discovered, it is possible to change a lot of the colours in PowerShell.  Let’s start by changing the colour of the error messages:

$host.PrivateData.ErrorForegroundColor = “Green”

So let’s see what that does:

image

Okay, that is much better.  We can also change the background colour of the error text (black by default), by using this:

$host.PrivateData.ErrorBackgroundColor = “DarkCyan”

image

Granted, I hate the colour, but once you know the command, you can play with the colours that you want.

As well, if you want to change the colour scheme of the entire console, you can use the following:

[console]::ForegroundColor = “Yellow”

[console]::BackgroundColor = “black”

Now we have the entire console in black, and the default text in yellow.

If you want to use these colours persistently, you can insert them into your profile… or just create a .ps1 file that you run every time you open PowerShell.

Jeff Hicks wrote a number of great scripts a few years ago that will let you manage your colour schemes, and they can be found here.  Unfortunately it is an older article and the images are gone, but the scripts are intact, and that is the important part.

Have fun!

Windows 7 End of Life and Extended Support

win7-logoWhen Microsoft released Windows 7 in October, 2009 the vast majority of users (both corporate and home) were still running Windows XP.  While they had released Windows Vista three years earlier, it was never widely accepted.  The improvements over the then six-year-old operating system were revolutionary, especially for the vast majority of users who eschewed Windows Vista.

Windows 8 came and went, and although Windows 8.1 was, to many, a great alternative to Windows 7, most people did not appreciate the changes that Microsoft made with the first modern operating system, and it too was not as widely adopted as some at Microsoft would have liked.  Windows 7 reigned supreme.

In 2015 Microsoft announced that Windows 10 would be the last desktop operating system they would release, adopting a Software as a Service (SaaS) model with minor improvements coming with the monthly patch cycle, and major improvements being released in a biannual release cycle, delivered via the same patch channels as the monthly updates.  This would be great for end-users, but corporations would still have to run the same application tests on these ‘milestone’ releases as they would have to do with any operating system update.  Let’s not fool ourselves… they may all be called Windows 10, but Microsoft is now effectively releasing a new operating system every six months.  Corporations understand this, and Windows 7 is still the operating system installed on at least forty percent of Windows endpoints.

It is easy for Microsoft to tell home and small-businesses that they will end support for Windows 7 on January 14, 2020 – they made that announcement years ago, and the date has not changed – but if a large number of those Windows 7 endpoints are corporate devices, they have to find a solution to keep the corporate customers happy.  Last week they announced what their solution will be.

Microsoft will now be releasing Windows 7 Extended Security Updates (ESU) for volume license customers only as a paid subscription effective January, 2020, and has committed to offering these for three years – through January, 2023.  These updates will be available for Windows Professional and Windows Enterprise, as a paid offering, increasing in price each year.  This is reminiscent of the model used with previous operating systems (such as Windows NT 4).  This ESU will be offered (and charged) per computer.  For customers who have invested large sums for Windows 7 solutions, this is important.  Despite the fact that Microsoft claims that 99% of Windows 7 applications are now compatible with Windows 10, that does not mean that companies are going to be ready to change over so fast.  Yes, they will, by the end of regular support, have had five years to upgrade; yes, by the time regular support ends Windows 7 will have been around for over a decade; neither of these facts change the reality that looking at the field today – some sixteen months before End Of Life (EOL) for Windows 7 – where forty percent of computers running Windows are still running that (by computer standards) ancient legacy OS.  You can say what you will about Microsoft, but they are a company that does not like to turn its back on its customers.

(By the way, Windows 8.1 Support will go through January, 2023)

Okay, so the corporate clients are covered, but what about home users?  Sorry to say it folks, but they are SOL – Something Out of Luck.  With the free upgrade offer a distance memory (officially… there are still ways to get it), Windows 7 Home users, as well as those using Windows 7 Pro without a volume license agreement, will no longer be supported.

What does that mean?  Unsupported operating systems may still run whatever software you need, but there will no longer be security updates.  It means that if (really when) a new vulnerability is discovered, unsupported operating systems will be vulnerable to hackers, along with everything that entails.  Simply put, your computer will not be safe.

In 2010 I started tweeting (nearly) every weekday how many days were left until #EndOfDaysXP.  I did it for nearly 1400 days.  Today I am launching a similar initiative, #EndOfDaysWin7.  The current count is 489 days.  That is how long you have to not only plan but also to implement your Windows 10 migration strategy.  If your company needs help, either with developing or evaluating your strategy, or to design and implement it, you should contact Cistel Technology Inc. to see how we can help.  Our Cistel Advanced Microsoft Team has the expertise and experience to help, and we will be glad to explain how.  Migration is not quick and easy, but we can help to make sure it is painless.  Reach out and ask us how!

Don’t be caught unsupported and unsecure.  Let Cistel help!

IPv6: Be gone!

Let me start this piece by stating that I am not advocating that we all ignore IPv6.  There are many reasons to use it, and there is nothing wrong with it.  Sure, it is more complicated than we may like… but then again, so was IPv4 when we were first introduced to it.

But alas, if you and your organization are not using IPv6, then there is no reason to have it bound to your workstations, let alone to your servers.  Let’s get rid of it… for now, knowing we can come back and re-enable it with a simple cmdlet.

First, we need to see which network cards have IPv6 bound to it, with the following:

Get-NetAdapterBinding | where {$_.ComponentId -eq ‘ms_tcpip6’}

That will return a list of NICs that have IPv6 enabled, like so:

Get-IPv6

We can remove the binding from each adapter individually, like so:

Disable-NetAdapterBinding -Name “Wi-Fi 2” -ComponentID ms_tcpip6

Of course, then we would have to do it for each of our NICs.  Rather than doing that, it would be simpler to just use a wildcard, thus disabling it for all of our NICs simultaneously:

Disable-NetAdapterBinding -Name “*” -ComponentID ms_tcpip6

Of course, in order to do this, you must open PowerShell with elevated credentials, so make sure you Run As Administrator.

Once you have done that, you can then go back and get the same list.  Notice that the listings under Enabled all read False now.

Disable-IPv6

Now, as you may have heard me say before, PowerShell is very easy to understand… it is almost as if it were post-troglodyte grammar.  Get-Thing! Disable-NetAdapterBinding!  So it stands to reason that the reverse of the Disable-NetAdapterBinding cmdlet would be… yes, you guessed it! Enable-NetAdapterBinding!  But this time, rather than using the wildcard, let’s just do it for the NIC that I am currently using:

Enable-NetAdapterBinding -Name “W-Fi 2” -ComponentID ms_tcpip6

From this, we will now get the following results:

Enable-IPv6

…and just like that, we can now enable and disable a protocol on demand.

By the way, if you are not fond of ComponentIDs, you can also use the actual display names:

Get-Bindings

Of course, that is too much typing for a lot of people, so you could shorten it with wildcards… or you can just cut and paste the ComponentID cmdlets.

Have fun guys, and script on!

 

 

Windows 10 Support Extended

Team10I know, I am a couple of months late on this… on February 1st, 2018 Microsoft announced that it would be extending support on Windows 10 Editions 1709, 1703, and 1607.  That means that instead of having 18 months of support, you will have 24. The bad news? This applies only to the Enterprise and Education SKUs of the product.

According to Microsoft, this is the current support calendar:

Release Release Date End of Support End of Support for Enterprise/Education
Windows 10 (1607) August 2, 2016 April 10, 2018 October 9, 2018
Windows 10 (1703) April 5, 2017 October 9, 2018 April 9, 2019
Windows 10 (1709) October 17, 2017 April 9, 2019 October 8, 2019

For those of you not paying attention, End of Support for Windows 10 (1607) was earlier this week, as well as End of Additional Servicing for Enterprise, Education for Windows 10 1511.

For those of you who say that it is unfair that Enterprise and Education SKUs get longer support cycles, please remember that most customers who buy the Home and Pro SKUs are buying much fewer licenses, and the free upgrade (via Windows Update, as well as numerous other channels) makes it much easier to manage, as compared to Enterprise and Education license customers, where customers often buy tens (and hundreds) of thousands of seats, and need time to check software compatibility and to actually roll out (via their enterprise deployment tools) the myriad seats that they have.

 

Free Will…

I am in Montreal this week, working on a friend’s computer.  After twelve incredible years of service, the laptop is being replaced. But before that happens I must transfer the data to his new computer… a task made infinitely more difficult by the utter and complete infestation of his computer with malware.

Aside from being a very good friend, Rick is also a fan of my blog, and will be among the first to read this article; that is not why I will not be bad-mouthing him per-se, but it does show that I often write articles about the people who read my blog, and occasionally I call them out by name.  Rick and his wife have done nothing intentionally wrong to the Dell Inspiron E1405 that likely rolled off the line shortly after George W. Bush was elected to his second term; however the temptation of free this and that comes so often with the moral lesson that nothing is truly free in this life.

As I drove to Montreal yesterday I was joking with a colleague that I was going to have to go through this, and he asked me: If you know it is going to happen, and you can prevent it, why don’t you simply lock his computer down and protect him from himself? It is not the first time I have fielded this question – far from it.

If you have ever had a conversation with a religious leader and asked him how could they believe in G-d being all-powerful and yet there is so much evil in the world, the answer will usually be something like this: G-d created the world and everything in it, but then gave us free will, and it is mankind’s free will from whence the evil comes.  It may be a frustrating answer, but it is fairly hard to refute.

The same is true with computers; in a corporate environment it is easy enough for a competent IT Administrator to lock down their environment and prevent end users from ‘horking’ their computers.  However when a consumer buys their own computer there will be no such restrictions – they have the free will to do what they like.  The creators of the operating environment – in the case of Windows the product team at Microsoft – have put in myriad safeguards to protect us, but in the end in order for our computers to be useable, they have to give us the free will to install programs we like… some of which yes will be harmful.  We have all of the tools we need to be successful… but outside of the protected environment of the Garden (a freshly installed and patched operating system) they have to let us loose to survive and thrive… and succeed or fail.

Twenty-five years ago the majority of people were afraid of their computers (and of computers in general).  They turned it on and after the operating system (MS-DOS) booted they were greeted by a black screen and a DOS prompt (C:\>_).  They did not know where to look for the hidden tricks that were available to wreck their systems.  With the introduction of the Windows Operating Environment (Windows 95 and later) it became so much easier to find these tools… while innocently trying to tweak their environment.  If they wanted to write a letter they knew how to access their word processor, and if they needed to use a spreadsheet they knew how to do that too.  However the Disk Management utility was hidden away… often on a floppy disk that would have to be put into the system and run by experts.  Today they know to right-click on anything they see and click around… and of course with every computer connected to the Internet the malicious malware creators make it oh-so-tempting to install tools and games that pretend to be one thing but really infect their computers with crap.

A couple of years ago I wrote a piece that was meant to be my introduction to a lecture on BYOD computing.  I am going to dig it up and tweak it for publishing here.  It outlines how the job of the IT Professional has gotten infinitely harder and less powerful as the fear and awe with which people looked at their computers turned to familiarity and a false sense of knowledge and security.

With regard to people installing ‘crapware’ I think we, those of us who support our friends and family computers, have to accept some responsibility.  Because so many of us were so dismissive about the threats out there in favour of a ‘don’t call me unless it’s broken’ attitude, our friends and families realized that they could install or click here when prompted to.  So often when I sit in front of a friend’s system I ask them ‘why did you do this?’ The answer is usually something to the effect of ‘I didn’t want to bother you over nothing.’

Is there any way for us to prevent this?  Sure… we can take their Administrator rights away, but then they would be calling us every time they wanted to install the smallest program (like I do at the office).  However that would be a huge inconvenience to us – and to them.  We can install anti-malware and remote-monitoring tools such as Windows Intune, but there is a cost to that… and unless they maintain their patch levels and malware definitions they fall out of scope so quickly.

And so every so often a friend or family member calls me and I help them out; I clean out their malware and perform whatever other maintenance is required.  I do not do this preventatively because there are too many people and computers involved and it would take too much time.  However I don’t mind getting the occasional call of ‘Hey Mitch, I screwed up my computer… let me buy you a bottle of scotch in exchange for a couple of hours of your time.’  If nothing else, it gives me a good excuse to get together with them and chat while I mindlessly do what needs to be done.

…and yes, I occasionally get a good bottle of scotch out of it! 🙂

Since When…?

Those of us who have been in the IT industry for a while remember the heady days of never having to reboot a server… otherwise known as ‘The days before Windows Server.’  Those days are long gone, and even non-Windows servers need to be patched and restarted.

But how do you know when it last happened?  If you have a proper management and monitoring infrastructure then you can simply pull up a report… but many smaller companies do not have that, and even in larger environments you may want to figure out up-time without having to go through the entire rigmarole of pulling up your reports. So here it is:

  1. Open a Command Prompt
  2. Type in net statistics server

There will be a line that says Statistics since m/dd/yyyy… That is when your server last rebooted.

If you want to shorten it, you can also just type Net Stats SRV.  It provides the same results.

Uptime

Incidentally, while the command specifically states Server, it works for workstations too.

…And now you know.

SQL Server: How to tame the beast!

One of the benefits of virtualization is that you can segregate your SQL Servers from your other workloads.  Why?  If not then Microsoft SQL Server will hoard every last bit of resources on your machine, leaving scant crumbs for other workloads. 

image

Seriously… when you start the Microsoft SQL Server you will immediately see your memory usage jump through… or more accurately, to the roof.  That is because SQL Server is actually designed to take up all of your system’s memory.  Actually that is not entirely true… out of the box, Microsoft SQL Server is designed to take up 2TB of RAM, which means that in all likelihood a lot more memory than your computer actually has.

So assuming you have been listening to me for all of these years, you are not installing anything else on the same computer as your SQL Server.  You are also making sure that the virtual machine that your SQL Server is installed on (remember I told you to make sure to virtualize all of your workloads?) has its memory capped (Hyper-V sets the default Maximum RAM to 64GB).  You are doing everything right… so why is SQL performing slowly?

It’s simple really… Your computer does not have 2TB of RAM to give SQL Server… and if it did have 2TB of RAM, the operating system (remember Windows?) still needs some of that.  So the fact that SQL wants more than it can have can make it a little… grumpy.  Imagine a cranky child throwing a tantrum because he can’t have deserts or whatever.

Fortunately there is an easy fix to this one (unlike the cranky child).  What we are going to do is limit the amount of RAM that SQL actually thinks it wants… and when it has everything that it wants, it will stop misbehaving.

1) Determine how much RAM the server on which SQL Server is installed has.

2) Open Microsoft SQL Server Management Studio with administrative credentials.

3) Connect to the database (If you have multiple SQL databases on the same server see the note below)

4) In the navigation pane right-click on the actual SQL Server (the topmost item) and click Properties

5) In the Server Properties page navigate to Memory

6) Figure out how much 90% of your server’s RAM would be (in megabytes).  Use the following equation:

1GB = 1024*.90=921.6

8GB = 1024*8 (8192)*.90=7373

7) In the Maximum server memory (in MB) field type that number, then click OK.

That’s it!

**Note: The math we are using here allocates 90% of the total RAM to the SQL Server.  In the event that you have multiple SQL Server databases running on the same box you will have to do a bit of calculating to determine how much each database should use… and that can be a challenge.

If you only have the one database engine on your box, you should immediately notice marked improvements.  This breathing room does not mean that it is now time to pour more workloads onto the server… only that your SQL Server should be running a little better!

Surface Pro 3 and Windows 8: Not everybody’s cup of tea

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… I do like my Surface Pro 3.  With that being said, I know everyone has different tastes, and some people are not going to like it.  A couple of months ago my sister, a long time Mac user (and Apple Fanboi) told me that her new job would be giving her a Pro 3, and asked what I thought of it.  I told her – it predated my realizing the extent of the network issues – that I loved it, and expected she would too.

Last week she e-mailed me to tell me that she really hated it.  It crashed a number of times in the first week, and she does not have the patience for these errors – she said her Macs (all of them) just work, and don’t have blue screens of death or other issues.

Now to be fair to the Surface team, a lot of the issues she outlined had to do with Windows 8.1, Microsoft Office, OneDrive, and the Microsoft Account.  I understand her frustration – if you take the device out of the equation, those are four different products from four different teams that are all supposed to work together seamlessly… but don’t.  I respect that Microsoft has a lot of different products, but if you are going to stop talking about products and start talking about solutions then you should make sure your teams work together a lot closer to make sure that seamless really is seamless.

I probably know Windows better than 99.5% of the population, and work very fluently across these four products… but one of the reasons for that is because I have come to understand that sometimes the seams between them are going to show, and like a Quebec driver I have learned better than most to navigate the potholes.  However if Microsoft really wants to stay at the top in an era where customers do want things to just work, they had better get off their butts, come down off their high horses, and start making sure that seamless really is just that.

I want to be clear… I am not trading in my devices for Macs (or Linux).  While I do have an iPhone (See article) I would just as soon have an Android or a Windows phone.  I love Windows 8.1, and even now at my office I cringe at having to work with Windows 7 (Ok, cringe is a strong word… I just wish it was Windows 8.1!).  However I have worked with iPads, Androids, Macs, and more, and I know that those solutions do make for a better experience with regard to some features than the Microsoft ecosystem.  I hope that under Satya things get better… but nearly a year into his tenure and I don’t see much progress.

In the meantime I am strongly considering going to open an account at one of the banks that is currently offering free iPad Minis to new account holders!

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.

The Dawn of a New Day

As I sit in my office getting ready to close up, it is a little after 10pm, September 3rd, 2012.  That makes tomorrow a very important day in the world of IT.

Microsoft has announced that on September 4th, 2012 they will make Windows Server 2012, the newest generation of one of the most successful back-end software franchises in the world, available for purchase – in other words, GA (General Availability).  For those of us on the front line evangelizing the product, it is a very exciting time.

For myself it is doubly exciting, because as of September 4th, 2012 I am officially joining the Evangelism team at Microsoft Canada – albeit in a less direct way.  My new title is Virtual Technical Evangelist – Windows Infrastructure.  I have known about this for some time but have kept it quiet for a couple of reasons, not the least of which is superstition.

For the last year I have begun to work much closer with the Evangelism team, with presentations, tours, and blog articles on Server Virtualization, Windows, and many other topics.  I have surprised many people in the last few months when I told them that I do not actually work for Microsoft Canada, but with them.  My new title simply means that I will be doing more of the same – teaching people and groups about Windows (Server and Client), helping them dispel some of the myths, showing them how to use the technologies better.

It is a very exciting time to be a Technical Evangelist.

Because of the switch I want to put a few things straight.  Very little is actually going to change.  I will still be running SWMI Consulting Group, and will still be available for private engagements.  I will continue teaching both Microsoft and some non-Microsoft technologies in classroom settings.  I have spoken with Stephen Rose and Simran Chaudhry, and have assured them that I will still be a Microsoft MVP, and will continue to be an active member of the STEP (Springboard Technical Experts Panel) team, presenting on Windows 8 across the country and, when invited, around the world.  None of that is changing.

Something else that is not changing is probably what makes me the ideal candidate for this new (I am the first!) position: my passions.  If you have heard me speak or read my articles you know a lot of what I am passionate about, and none of that is changing.  I am still a passionate advocate of Hyper-V and the Microsoft Virtualization story, including the Private Cloud managed by System Center 2012.  I am still a passionate advocate of migrating clients and users off Windows XP, and will continue the countdown right through April 14, 2014 (by the time you read this the countdown will be to 580 days until #EndOfDaysXP!).  You can read it on my blog from time to time, or if you want a running countdown you can follow me on Twitter at @MGarvis.  These passions and focuses are not being redirected because of the position I am taking, rather I was selected for the position because my passions and focuses are exactly where a Technical Evangelist (Virtual or otherwise) for Microsoft should be.  I have not focused because I have been paid to.

Another passion of mine that will align me to the role is my passion and belief in the IT Pro (and other) technical communities around the country.  I will continue to support those communities – whether they are on-line or in person, user groups or otherwise – in the same manner and with the same passionate zeal that I have in the past, dating back nearly nine years.  I hope that going forward I will be able to do so from a more official position than I have, but even if that does not happen my support for user groups and their leaders (and aspiring leaders) will not change.

Over the next few weeks we will be crossing the nation with the launch of Windows Server 2012, and following that we will likely do the same with Windows 8.  Interspersed with both we will be bringing IT Boot Camps and user group events to you in your city, so stay tuned;  it may be an exciting time to be a Virtual Technical Evangelist, but it is a really exciting time to be an IT Pro and community member in the Microsoft ecosystem in Canada.  We look forward to helping you along the journey! 

Are You Intune? You can be for only $99!

If you are with a Microsoft Partner in Canada, then this training is for you!  I will be delivering a one-day hands-on class on Windows Intune: Implementing and Supporting Technical Training across Canada.  Because it is sponsored by the Microsoft Partner Network the cost for this one-day session is just $99… and that includes breakfast and lunch!

The schedule for the day is broken down into four modules, each with their own lab:

Module 1: Windows Intune Overview

  • Solution Cloud Services and Windows 7
  • Windows Intune and Support for Windows 7 Fits Your Business
  • Comparing Windows Intune with Other Products
  • Windows Intune Geographic Availability
  • Signing Up for Windows Intune
  • Overview of the Windows Intune Administrator Console
  • Types of Administrator
  • Managing and Securing PCs in Any Location by Using Windows Intune
  • Windows Intune Workspaces
  • Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack
    Lab 1: Learning Account Basics for Windows Intune

Module 2: Managing Windows Intune Client Computers

  • Understanding Groups
  • Using Groups
  • The Windows Intune Update Process
  • Update States
  • Managing Updates
  • Working with Non-Microsoft Updates
  • Deploying Updates
  • Windows Intune Policy Concepts
  • Windows Intune Policy Templates
  • Creating and Deploying Windows Intune Policies
  • Managing Endpoint Protection
  • Installing over Existing Antivirus Software
  • Best Practices for Creating and Deploying Windows Intune Policies
    Lab 2: Managing Groups, Policies, and Updates
  • Module 3: Deploying and Installing the Windows Intune Client

  • Windows Intune System Requirements
  • The Windows Intune Client Installation Package
  • Using the Installation Executable (.EXE) File
  • Lab 3A: Installing the Windows Intune Client
  • Working with the Windows Installer (.MSI) Files
  • Best Practices for Working with Client Installation Files
  • Windows Intune Deployment Routes
  • The Standard Windows Intune Client Installation Process
  • The Offline Windows Intune Client Installation Process
  • Windows Intune Components
  • Troubleshooting a Windows Intune Client Installation
  • Uninstalling a Windows Intune Client
  • Removing Windows Intune Client Components
    Lab 3B: Validating a Windows Intune Client Installation

Module 4: Deploying software to Windows Intune Clients

  • Software deployment overview
  • Software deployment considerations
  • Installing the Windows Intune Software Publisher
  • Preparing software installation files
  • Uploading and configuring the deployment package
  • Client download and installation
  • Monitoring deployment status
  • Best Practices
    Lab 4: Software Deployment through Windows Intune
    Monday, November 21, 2011: Toronto, ON
    Tuesday, November 22, 2011: Montreal, QC
    Thursday, November 24, 2011: Vancouver, BC
    Friday, November 25, 2011: Calgary, AB
    Spaces are limited so book now… I look forward to seeing you there!

End of Days for Windows XP.

Quite a number of people have asked me why I continue to tweet the number of days until Microsoft ends support for one of it’s most successful operating systems ever, Windows XP.  Especially knowing that we seem to be a long way off – today is Friday August 12, 2011 and we are 969 days away from that day, nearly three years as someone recently pointed out.

The truth is that if you have one or two or even ten computers under your responsibility then planning and implementing the deployment plan of a new operating system is not that difficult or time consuming.  However if you have hundreds or thousands of them – numbers not uncommon even among small business IT consultants who service several clients, let alone IT Pros managing desktops for MORGs, LORGs, and Enterprises – then it is something that takes a great degree of forethought and planning.  Issues such as application compatibility, hardware lifecycles, and licenses must be determined, managed, and accounted for. 

How many companies are out there who don’t actually know what they have?  I often ask at my seminars what reasons people have for not having moved to Windows 7 yet, and among the most common (along with cost and application compatibility) is that it is daunting.  The thought of what people need to consider for such a project can be overwhelming if you don’t know what you have, because frankly how can you know where to start?

I used to work for a man named Jacob Haimovici who always said that if you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it.  It is absolutely true, especially in the world of IT where so often you cannot touch your assets, and the assets you can touch may contain any number of disparate components (hardware). 

The Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit is a free tool from the Microsoft Solution Accelerators team is your first step to having an easier life as an IT Pro.  It is an agentless inventory, assessment, and reporting tool that can securely assess IT environments for various platform migrations—including Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2, and even virtualization with Hyper-V.  It inventories your environment including hardware and software, and lets you know what you have.  It creates spreadsheets for you of all of your assets, and lets you know what components are ready for Windows 7, which need mitigations, and which will need upgrading or replacing. 

I ran the MAP tool on the network at Meadowgreen Academy in Mississauga, Ontario before I embarked upon my migration plan, and determined quickly that none of their video cards supported Aero Glass; also a number of the machines did not have enough memory.  These were easily mitigated with a purchase order, and the school administrator was pleased that I discovered all of this up front, and did not wait until it was too late and they had to decide with a proverbial gun to their heads.

The MAP toolkit will also prepare the proposal documents with graphs and charts that speak the language of CxOs, which so many IT Pros cannot do.  Even those who do to a man hate preparing reports and proposals, so the MAP toolkit can be a real godsend.

I was golfing with a client in California a year ago and he told me he had to do a network inventory that afternoon for a new client.  When I asked him what tools he used he told me ‘a pen and paper.’  After I told him about MAP, he told me that before he took me to see the client he needed to run it by the boss.  The boss wanted to see it in action, so I pulled out my netbook (that’s all it takes – fully contained on a 1 GB netbook!), plugged it into their network.  Once they supplied me with the credentials the tool took a few minutes to run and generate the reports.  They were astounded to see the cost savings they could realize by virtualizing their servers!  When we looked at the count of client computers they told me I was off by five… until we determined that the sales team were at an off-site… with their laptops.

Of course, you may need more, and if you do, there are plenty of courses available to help you with your skills, including the highly popular ‘Updating Skills for Windows 7’ by Raymond Comvalius and myself, published by MVP Press.  There are certifications for Windows 7 as well as for Windows deployment, and if you look up the exam 70-681 you will see what the prerequisites are to become an MCTS: Windows 7 Deployment.  If courses aren’t right for you, check out books like Mastering Windows 7 Deployment by Aidan Finn, Darril Gibson and Kenneth van Surksum, which covers everything you will need, and more!

If you are the type to just hack away and figure it out, Microsoft has a whole plethora of free and simple tools that will help you with your deployment plan, including MDT, WDS, WAIK, SCCM, App-V, ACT, and more.  As we say, you can’t spell Deployment without them!  Believe me, once you take the first step, deployment is not as daunting as it might seem now.

MCITP: Server Boot Camp, Virginia Beach

It was REALLY last minute… on Friday I got a mass e-mail from a training provider scrambling to replace a trainer who had cancelled at the last minute.  By some miracle of scheduling I was available; after a few hours of back and forth e-mails I booked my flight for Sunday to be at the training facility Monday morning.

All boot camps are hectic.  The pace is often ridiculous… it is frantic to rush through 15 days of classes in 10 days, but with a group of students as good as these, who have met the prerequisites and have the drive and the discipline, then it can be done.  We completed the first course (6421: Configuring and Troubleshooting a Windows Server 2008 Network Infrastructure) in four days instead of five, and the students all wrote the exam Thursday evening and Friday morning.  All passed (one needed to use his Second Shot Free, but that’s what it’s there for!) the first exam (70-642) and earned their first certification (MCTS: Windows Server 2008 Network Infrastructure, Configuration) and were psyched and energized to tackle two more courses over a six day period.

IMG_0647

It cannot be easy for them.  The pace that the curriculum dictates I maintain is frenetic.  They are all drinking from the fire hose, and many have been learning concepts that they will never have the opportunity to implement or work with in their day to day jobs.  However the morning of Day One they all answered the questions I ask of every class, starting with ‘Why are you here?’ They all have their reasons, and since their employers all sent them most of them revolve around ‘I need the certifications and/or training to keep my job.’  I respect that.

During the two week class two of the seven students have celebrated birthdays.  These were marked by the class going to lunch together, happy birthday wishes, and (very small) token presents.  Neither birthday boy/girl missed class because they were out partying or celebrating too late.  Several times over the fortnight smartphones have vibrated with messages of the world coming to an end back at the office… yet nobody took time off of class because they understand the importance of learning.  When labs break they work out how to fix them, or ask for help (first of their fellow students, then of me).  When concepts are unclear the fellow students help clarify.  It is wonderful to watch.

None of them have complained about the pace, none has shied away from homework and I have not once heard a complaint about the extended work days and early morning.  As Master Lee (see my previous post about Master Lee’s Joonbi Taekwondo) taught his new student last night, our ability to succeed hinges on our willingness to work hard to achieve our goals.  As Grand Master Kim makes us recite before and after class, Everything is up to my mind, Sir!

These students know all of that, and have the work ethic, and now the certification, to prove it!

Way to go class!