Event Viewer Tasks: Get rid of them!

A little while ago I was demonstrating some of the functionalities of the Windows Event Viewer.  It has been around for so many years, and yet there are people who have not used it.  One of the functions that I demonstrated was attaching a task to an event… so when a particular event happens, a script is run.

Adding the task is easy… you click on the event in question, and then in the Actions pane you click Attack Task To This Event… just like this:

image

The options for the task will come up… you can either start a program, send an e-mail, or display a message (although the last two options are deprecated).  In other words, you are running a program… or a script.

Attaching a task is easy… but if you want to remove that task… well, that’s another story.  There is simply no option to do it.

Event Viewer is a good ‘free’ tool.  If you are using it for your environment, then you are likely either an individual or a very small organization.  Even a respectable-sized small business would have more advanced tools for their server monitoring and management.  As such, I am not sure if they have made any real modifications to it since Windows Vista/Server 2008.  All this to say that there is no ‘detach’ or ‘remove task’ option anywhere in the window.

There is, however, a way to remove them.  Here’s how:

  1. On the server (or desktop) in question, navigate to “C:\Windows\System32\Tasks\Event Viewer Tasks.
  2. Find the task in question.
  3. Delete the task.

These files, which have no file extension, are nonetheless XML files.  You can open them up and modify them if you want without doing any real damage… but most of the time it would be just as easy to delete it and start from scratch.

Deleting the file shouldn’t have any negative consequences for your system, but if you are concerned, you can back it up by simply copying the file to an alternate file location.

I hope this helped!

Internet Explorer: Still slowly going away

For the last who-knows-how-long, Microsoft Windows users have been opting for a third-party web browser in lieu of the dreaded Internet Explorer. They went through so many versions over the years, it was almost comical. Each time they released a new version, Microsoft would tout their modern browser. Each time, the masses would snicker, claiming that now they were only five years behind other browsers.

When Microsoft Edge was released, they were hoping to put the stigma of Internet Explorer behind them. No such luck, they were still behind the pack. It was like the largest software company in the world just couldn’t make a browser right. They were always playing catch-up.

I am not an expert in web browsers, I just use whatever is available most of the time. I am also not a developer. So I cannot speak to the new Edge browser built on the Chromium open-source engine. I use it, as I use other browsers alongside it. They all seem to do the job I need.

With that said, there are still companies using Internet Explorer. I do not know if there are companies forcing their staff to use older versions of IE, but there are certainly a lot of them on IE 11.

Microsoft announced this week a road map for their legacy browsers (See article). So:

  • November 30, 2020: Microsoft Teams will no longer support IE11
  • March 9, 2021: Microsoft Edge (Legacy) will stop receiving updates.
  • August 17, 2021: Microsost 365 will no longer support IE11.

They (Microsoft) want to assure you that just because they are no longer supporting the seven-year-old browser, you can continue to use it if you have custom web apps that still need it. IE11 is a component of the operating system, and as such follows the life cycle policy for the OS. As of this writing, the latest release of Windows 10 (Version 2004) still includes IE, so you would have at least two years of support left.

If your organization does not use custom web apps that require the legacy browser, there is no good reason to keep forcing it on your users. It would be like forcing children to take shots for a medication that is just as effective (if not much more so) in a very tasty candy option.

Microsoft claims that its new Edge web browser is the fastest and most secure on the market.

What does it mean that Microsoft 365 will no longer support IE11? It means that if you are using the web apps – web mail, or any of the other browser-based applications included in Microsoft 365, you will no longer be able to access them from the old browser. Additionally, if you have not upgraded to the new (Chromium-based) Microsoft Edge, you will not be able to access them from the old version either.

Why not? It goes beyond the security and performance implications. The product development team at Microsoft changed course, and rather than forcing that team to continue to support the old version for the foreseeable future, they have freed them (or at least will have on March 9) to focus exclusively on the new version.

Is the new Edge better than the old Edge? Are those better than Internet Explorer 11? Yes, and yes. Is the new Edge better than (or at least on par with) competitive browsers, such as the industry leading Google Chrome (see supporting data)? I am not the right man to comment on that. I will say that both this IT professional and many of my friends much prefer it over the older versions. That is not to say that we are not installing Chrome and Firefox when we install a new operating system, but for the first time in the twenty-five years since its first browser was released, Microsoft seems to have a browser that is competitive and worthy of the challenge.

A Clean Windows Installation…

It happens twice every year… Microsoft releases a new version of Windows 10.  For most people, the new version will be installed for them automatically by whatever method they use for patch management… either Windows Update, or any of myriad enterprise deployment tools their organization uses to manage desktop operating systems.

Unfortunately, due to a Windows update limitation that I have never quite understood, for me it means that I will be redeploying my operating system from scratch twice per year.

While Windows works fine when installed on a USB key, you cannot do a major OS upgrade to it.  So, if you have Windows 10 Enterprise version 1903 (Spring 2019) on a USB key, despite newer versions being released (Autumn 2019 and Spring 2020), the USB installation would remain on v1903.

spyrus-wspFor the last couple of years, because I use a number of different hardware platforms, I have been maintaining a USB key installation of Windows (formerly known as Windows to Go) as my primary personal system.  I run it off a Spyrus Worksafe Pro 128GB, and I have never had an issue with it.  I love the portability of it, in addition to the speed, security, and reliability.  What I do not love is that if I want to stay current, I have to reinstall Windows every six months… from scratch.

I have to admit, the process of reinstalling Windows every six month (along with all of my applications) is a pain in the rear.  It is time consuming, and if I am not careful, it is easy to forget something.  Yes, all of my data is in the cloud… but there is always the possibility that things can get missed; you know, files on the desktop, whatever.

The process is a pain, but it is also cathartic.  It gives me the opportunity to start with a clean slate.  Older application versions will be removed, and the newer ones deployed in its place.  Applications I might have needed for a contract do not have to be reinstalled.  What was old is new again.  It truly feels like a spring cleaning of my desktop environment.

With modern technologies such as Windows Autopilot there are some great tools to make the process easier.  I don’t mind spending a bit of time refreshing the environment.  A couple of hours later, and things are as good as new.  Windows to Go may be gone, but mobile Windows is still the way I am going.  So if we cannot do major updates on Windows USB installations, I’ll go through it.  I’m just glad it’s not more often than every six months!

Windows to Go Lives!

Sometimes the universe is talking to me.

This weekend, for reasons I cannot recall, I was thinking about the fact that Microsoft announced that it will be deprecating Windows to Go, and that sometime this fall I would be faced with the choice of either:

  • Keeping my supported Windows 10 v1903 Windows to Go key; or
  • Using a non-supported method of building a new Windows to Go key on Windows 10 v1909.

I was sitting on the patio enjoying a cigar when something occurred to me: when twice-yearly I rebuild my Windows to Go key (on my Spyrus Worksafe Pro 128) I do not use Microsoft’s Windows to Go Creator Tool, but rather a proprietary tool provided by Spyrus that handles their security encryption and all.  So, I wondered to myself, is my Spyrus tool really running Windows to Go, or is it simply Windows 10 installed on a USB device?  If so, might it continue to work with future versions of Windows 10?

It is not often that I am excited by a press release in my morning e-mail.  This morning I read about a scandal in Canada that won’t go away (and with good reason, but enough already!), another in Israel involving Sara Netanyahu, the Ukraine, and a piece of bread… and then there was one from Spyrus.

2019-08-20_9-25-30Last month I published an article called Windows to Go… Going Away.  Microsoft has announced that it is deprecating the Windows to Go functionality in future releases of Windows 10, which in theory meant that those of us who work with the tool would be stuck on Windows 10 v1903, the last version of the operating system to include the Windows to Go workspace creator tool (pwcreator.exe).

In my article last month I wrote that “There were ways of [installing Windows on a USB key] before Windows 8, and so there will be ways of doing it after Windows to Go is completely deprecated.”  I am happy that I am not going to have to rely on that.

On August 20, 2019 Spyrus announced that they are committed to securely supporting Windows to Go for the next decade, and that their solutions are to be the only secure USB device manufacturer certified by Microsoft.

Spyrus devices are certified FIPS 140-2 Level 3, offering the best security in the industry.  Because of their proprietary technology, they have always used their own creator tool.  As it does not rely on Microsoft’s continued development of WTG, Spyrus is able to continue to develop and support Windows to Go on all six Windows to Go devices, and thus continue to provide this functionality to their customers.

Spyrus

For those of us who use Windows to Go on a regular basis, this announcement was a welcome one.  I have confirmed with a company spokesperson that their Spyrus Widows to Go Creator Tool will continue to support bi-yearly releases as well as the Long Term Service Builds (LTSB) in the LTSC.  This is great news, and in honour of that I am planning on building a new tool with the LTSC release for a future article.

SpyrusHaving gone through several WTG devices over the last seven years, ranging from the cheapest to the most expensive, I decided last year that Spyrus was the device I was going to use – primarily if not exclusively – for my Windows to Go tools.  I have either met with or spoken to representatives (or agents) of a number of competing companies; I have not been able to reach any of them for comment.  I am glad to see that the device that I deemed over a year ago to be my favourite is not only still in the game, going forward they are going to be the only company still in it.

While Spyrus does offer solutions up to 1TB it is a little pricey, and with easily accessible wireless Internet and cloud storage solutions, it is likely that the smaller devices will fit the bill perfectly for most users.  I recently upgraded my primary device from the 64gb Worksafe Pro that I had since 2015 to the 128gb model that is identical in every way except capacity.  I understand the 512gb and 1TB versions are larger and while it would be great to have that terabyte at my disposal, by paying attention (e.g.: I do not synchronize my OneDrive, and I only maintain a week of e-mail) I find myself with 66GB of free space on the device.  I am so comfortable, in fact, that when I re-create the key with the Autumn release of Windows 10, I will likely expand my storage partition to accommodate larger files.

image

I don’t know why Microsoft decided that Windows to Go was not worth its continuing development; I suspect it has something to do with Azure VMs that will eventually run Windows 10, but that is not something I am privy to.  I am just glad at least that one company recognizes the value and importance of the technology, and will continue to provide WTG in a secure manner that is affordable and reliable.

…now if only they would deliver a tool to install Windows Server onto their keys! Smile

You can learn more about Spyrus and their solutions at www.spyrus.com.

Windows to Go… Going Away.

WTG.pngIn April of 2012 I was extremely excited as I walked to the stage at an event in Redmond, Washington and did my first ever presentation on Windows to Go.  I loved the idea of being able to take my installation of Windows – operating system version, applications, documents, the works – with me anywhere I went.  I have written myriad articles about it because I have had a real passion for it – not to mention the evolution of USB keys I have gone through that support it.

Windows to Go came with me to Japan twice, and allowed me to use my own hardware in lieu of selecting a corporate laptop.  It has come with me to many different sites, allowing me not only to use my own environment, but also to troubleshoot the hardware that friends and family have asked my help with.  It has traveled extensively with me, occasionally eliminating my need to bring a bulky laptop with me, where loaner hardware would be available.

The feature originally released with Windows 8 has not changed much through how many iterations (Windows 8, Windows 8.1, and 8 versions of Windows 10).  It is not a feature that Microsoft seems to have expended a lot of energy on following its release (the most current documentation lists a number of discontinued devices as available and certified (https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/deployment/planning/windows-to-go-overview).  Nonetheless it works, and has always worked very well – provided you use the appropriate hardware.  By this, I do not only mean a robust and hopefully certified USB key (I swear by my Spyrus Worksafe Pro, but have had several other keys as well).  I mean it is important that your USB port is not just a little loose, so that when your dog walks past his wagging tail jars your computer and forces a reboot (yes, that really happened to me).

Last month Microsoft announced that Windows to Go is no longer being developed, and that it will be removed from future versions of Windows.  I do not know if that means it will be gone in the Autumn 2019 release, but it is safe to say that it is heading out to pasture (See article).

I never understood people who continued to use older legacy operating systems and software, especially when the newer versions were better (or at least just as good) and available at no cost.  I remember a couple of years ago someone asked me for support on their Windows 8 device, and they really were running Windows 8; I had assumed that Windows 8.1 had replaced 100% of Windows 8 installations, but I was wrong… and when I asked why, he said to me ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! I like Windows 8, and I’m sticking with Windows 8.’  That was his choice and his right, even if I didn’t agree with him.

Now I sit wondering if I will be that guy in five years… “Hey, Mr. Garvis… why are you running Windows 10 v1903? Don’t you know how much better v2409 is?”  Maybe… but as long as my Spyrus Worksafe Pro is still spinning, this is my operating system and likely always will be.

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Okay, who are we kidding here? There are several ways to put Windows 10 on a USB device without having to rely on Microsoft’s sanctioned and precious red-headed stepchild.  There were ways of doing it before Windows 8, and so there will be ways of doing it after Windows to Go is completely deprecated.  Stay tuned later this autumn… because if the next version of Windows 10 truly does not include the Windows to Go Creator Tool, I will be exploring my options, and I will be discussing them in this very space.  Until then? Stay safe and patch regularly!

Upping My On-the-Go Game

WTGIt has been seven years since my buddies Raymond and Erdal and I got on stage at a conference in Redmond and demonstrated – for the first time ever to a non-NDA crowd – the functionality of Windows to Go (WTG)… and nearly four years since I picked up my Spyrus Worksafe Pro 64GB key that I have been using as one of my WTG keys ever since. 

Two weeks ago Microsoft announced that they would no longer be developing Windows to Go… to be brutally honest, I thought they had stopped developing it years ago, and it was just another stagnant component that is extremely functional, but does not get a lot of love.

While I understand they will no longer be developing it I truly hope that they do not remove WTG from Windows, which would be a real shame.  I use Windows to Go almost every day, and working how I work, I cannot imagine being as productive without it.

SpyrusFar from calling it quits, I have doubled down on Windows to Go… somewhat literally.  This weekend I formatted and configured the environment on my new WTG device – my new Spyrus Worksafe Pro 128GB.  I am not quite sure how it is that I ran out of space on my 64GB drive (for someone who has been in computers since 180kb floppy drives were a really neat idea, it is hard to imagine we have come this far), but I did… and so I made the decision and picked up the new device… all of the functionality with twice the capacity.

The 128GB device looks exactly like the Worksafe Pro 64GB that I have had in my pocket since 2015; I still do not know if the sleeker feel of the actual metal is how my original key felt when it was new, or if they have changed it somewhat.  I suppose only time will tell. 

The Spyrus WTG Creator Tools software (stored on the unencrypted boot partition) has changed since I bought my original key, but not since I last downloaded the update from Spyrus in December.  I like the new graphical challenge screen the new software includes, but as I said, that is a function of the new software and not the new key.

Over the next few weeks I will run the device through its paces – I will run side-by-side speed comparisons between the old and the new, and I will test its reliability.  What I will not do (which I am told it would survive) is to run over it with my car.  I am all for putting new devices through their paces, but aside from reviewing it for my blog I also plan to use it for a long time – whether or not the next few versions of Windows 10 support it.

Thanks Spyrus… even if Microsoft doesn’t appreciate Windows to Go, I do… and I appreciate your dedication to the product!

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!

1809 Recalled

It was launched on October 2nd, but word is that Windows 1809 has been recalled due to bugs. I downloaded it on Tuesday, but it is not currently available, so I have to advise all of my readers to hold off deploying it until Microsoft rereleases it.

Microsoft has a tradition of launching major releases at large events, so it was not a surprise that they announced the launch at the Microsoft Surface event in New York last week… but they also have a tradition of launching products before they are ready, which is why so many people are careful about installing immediately, and waiting for the first (or second) patch cycle seems to be the safest bet.

There was a time when I was almost always running pre-release software, but I spent too much time chasing bugs to be as productive as I need to be. I played with 1809 on my Windows to Go (WTG) keys, but I am glad I held off deploying to the main systems.

We will have another conversation about this in a few weeks, but for now I have to concede that the latest Microsoft OS offering has indeed fallen flat.

Windows 10 1809: What’s New

windows-10-logo-fontLast night I was pleased to hear that, as predicted, Windows 10 version 1809 dropped at the Microsoft Surface event in New York City.  While it may or may not be available for you via Windows Update this morning, I downloaded the ISO yesterday and went right to work.  Well, to be more specific, I skipped my lunch break and went right to it.

As I wrote earlier in the week, my first use case for the new version of Windows 10 (1809, the October 2018 Update, or Redstone 5) will be for my Windows to Go key, which stopped working with my primary device when I updated the firmware recently.  I was concerned because, in the past, you were not always able to create a Windows to Go key from an operating system running an earlier build.  Fortunately that does not seem to be the case from 1803, and I was able to get it going.

The feature that most people seem to be talking about is the dark theme for File Explorer, which is enabled using the Colors page under the Personalization section of Settings.  Okay, it is nice that we have the choice… but this is something I experimented with many years ago using third-party tools, and I decided that the default scheme is just fine by me.  I will not be making this jump.

Something that will be big for developers, especially cross-platform types, is the new option to Open Linux shell here, in the File Explorer expanded context (Shift + Right-Click).

Something I hope I remember to use, because I have often thought how useful it would be, is the Clipboard History feature.  Press Windows Key + V, and you will see what you have copied to the clipboard before.  For the security conscious among us, there is an option to Clear All in that menu, which will be useful when sharing machines.  Additionally, there is a Clipboard page in Windows Settings, where you can modify the settings for the Clipboard, including synchronizing across devices.  Cool.

There is a new Game Bar and Game Mode feature that I have heard discussed.  As someone who never plays games on his PC, I cannot address this… but I have heard that in this new mode you will not be interrupted for system maintenance such as Windows Updates.  Feel free to try it on your own 😉

I like that the Bluetooth and other devices page under Settings now displays the battery level of connected devices.  I hate when I am watching a movie on a flight (using my Bluetooth beadset) and the batteries die… this will give me warning to charge them when needed.

Also under Settings, the different networks will show Data Usage, allowing you to monitor in case you are tethered to a network such as a cellular phone.  You can also see usage per app, in case some of your background applications are using more data than you expected.

HD Color has been introduced to the Windows Settings page. For those who are video fans, this should be a nice addition.

There are a lot of new features being added to Narrator, for people who use it.  As well, SpeechInking, and Typing is being split into two pages under Settings, with Speech getting its own context page.

I will not pretend to be a big fan of the extended emojis available with Unicode 11 (there are apparently 157 new emojis, including superheroes and redheads).  As a forty-six year old man I occasionally use the 🙂 and 😦 emoticons… and I don’t concern myself with the Unicode graphics of them.

For those of us who use tablets and hybrid devices, the on-screen keyboard now includes SwiftKey intelligence, so you can swipe from letter to letter, rather than lifting your finger and tapping every key.  It learns your writing style, and will give you more accurate auto-corrections and predictions over time.

There is more to Windows 10 1809, and over the next few weeks I am sure I will address more of them in this space.  In the meantime, I invite you all to try it for yourself, whether in a virtual machine (download the ISO and create a VM), or on your production machine (either from Windows Update, or downloading the ISO and reinstalling your OS.  It will be interesting to see