Refresh Your PC – Save your bacon!

Thursday morning I did something to my main laptop that I really should not have done, and the results were disastrous.  I succeeded in completely wrecking my installation of Windows 8.  I was able to boot into the OS, but as soon as I tried to launch any application my system went into an endless flash-loop, and was completely unusable.

I want to be clear that Windows 8 is a very solid and stable platform – it is built on the foundation of Windows 7 which most people agree was the most stable OS that Microsoft had ever released.  Unfortunately when you tart to play under the hood (where the vast majority of users would never be) things can go wrong… and indeed that is what happened to my system.

Normally under these circumstances I would simply reformat the laptop, or at the very least re-install Windows on the existing partition (so as to not wipe my data).  However because my system is protected with BitLocker I would have had to extract the BitLocker Recovery Key, which I have on file… somewhere.

Because my laptop has a Microsoft corporate image on it I could have gone to the IT Help Desk at the office and had them work it out with me… but it was Thursday, I wasn’t going to be in my office until Monday, and I had several presentations to do over the course of the week-end… not to mention blog articles, e-mail, and whatever else I might have had to do.

Since I was able to boot into Windows 8 I decided to try to Refresh my PC.  This is a new feature of the OS that is found under Settings – Change PC Settings – General that refreshes my PC without affecting any files.  Essentially it reinstalls the OS in place which restores anything that I would have messed up – and I know just how badly I messed it up.  However it retains my data and settings for all users – including domain membership, files, desktop… everything.

Refresh is BitLocker-aware, and warned me before starting that it would temporarily disable my BitLocker protection and then re-enable it when the process was complete.

It took about 15 minutes.  Refresh rebooted the PC a couple of times, fixed everything that was wrong, and when I booted back into Windows it prompted me to log on as b-mitchg – my alias in the Microsoft Active Directory.  My password worked, and so did my PC.  The desktop was exactly as I had left it – a little cluttered, although not as bad as it would have been on Windows 7.

Refresh restores all of your Windows 8 apps that were installed from the Windows Store; any applications that you installed ‘the legacy way’ will have to be re-installed.  However that was a small price to pay considering that most of my apps (with the exception of Microsoft Office 2013) are all from the Store, so I didn’t have a lot of loss.

My settings were all correct, my documents were in their place, and my SkyDrive connection was intact.  Everything was as it was before the refresh… except it all worked!

Of course there is a ‘one step further’ – Remove everything and re-install Windows.  This will not preserve any of your files, settings, or even your account.  Imagine you are selling your PC, giving it to your kids, or whatever.  You don’t have to do anything but click through to the Settings – Change PC Settings – General tab and click the option to Remove Everything.  You don’t have to go looking for your Windows media, it just takes care of everything for you.

Between these two options I can imagine that technicians will spend a lot less time trying to clean malware out of their PCs… the Refresh option is much quicker and just as effective.

I know it saved my bacon last week… it saved me from something far more dangerous than malware… it saved me from myself!


What’s this new Cert? MCSA: Windows 7!

This post was originally written for the Canadian IT Pro Connection blog, and can be seen there at

In April of this year Microsoft Learning announced its new generation of certifications.  Many of us who had previously earned certain MCITP (Microsoft Certified IT Professional) credentials were automatically ported into a new certification category, the MCSA (Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate).  Depending on the MCITP you had earned, you would get a different MCSA.

There are two senior certifications for the Windows 7 desktop:

  • MCITP: Enterprise Desktop Administrator
  • MCITP: Enterprise Desktop Support Technician

If you have earned either of these certifications then you already have received (or will shortly) an e-mail from Microsoft Learning informing you that you will soon be awarded the new MCSA: Windows 7.  Congratulations!

Now, the benefit to this is that when it comes time to earning your MCSA: Windows 8 you will only have to take a single upgrade exam (70-689).

If you would like to learn more about the MCSA: Windows 7 and MCSA: Windows 8 certifications, visit the Microsoft Learning page here.

I have long been a huge advocate of certifications; I have worked on many of the exams and courses, and have worked hard to earn the ones that I hold – not because I need them in order to teach the associated classes (although that was once a consideration), but because I strongly believe that certifications are proof that you have the respect for your profession to not only learn the right way to do things, but to sit down and prove it.

In 2012 Microsoft Canada held a series of virtual study groups for Hyper-V.  Across the country dozens of people studied together in groups, and dozens of them took (and passed) exam 70-659, earning them the MCTS: Windows Server 2008, Server Virtualization credential.  With the launch of the new products and certifications I hope that we will bring these study groups back… as a benefit to the user groups, and as a way to get more people certified.  Watch this space for more information, and if you are interested in a particular cert let us know and we’ll see what we can do to help you out!

Windows 8 Experience Index… What it means and how to check it

SNAGHTML30c0a5cSix years ago Microsoft introduced the Windows Experience Index, a better way to measure the actual speed of computers, rather than simply relying on the single measurement of the CPU speed.

Although it really is more complicated than this, Microsoft has broken the speed of a computer down to five components: CPU, RAM, graphics and gaming graphics, and hard drive speed.  In Vista and then Windows 7 each of these was measured on a scale from 1.0-7.9.  In Windows 8 this has been changed to a scale from 1.0 to 9.9.

If you upgrade your computer from Windows 7 to Windows 8 then you will notice that your WEI has dropped; that’s because Microsoft realizes that newer hardware is available, and the hardware that was top of the line three years ago is now a bit longer in the tooth.

Each of the measurements has its own subscore, but the truth is that the speed of your computer is determined by the slowest of these – i.e.: the bottleneck.  So the Base Score of your computer – the one in the big blue square – is not a calculation or an average of the others, it is the lowest subscore from the five.

As you can see from the screenshot I took from my own laptop (an HP EliteBook 2740p) my Base Score is a 4.3.  As a business user I don’t see a particular need to invest in a machine with high-end graphics (especially pricy in laptops).  I don’t play games, and to watch the occasional movie all I need is a simple video card.  I am more concerned with the CPU, RAM, and hard drive performance in my system, and with these subscores at 6.8 and 7.7 I am very pleased with the laptop’s performance.

If you would like to check your Windows Experience Index, there are a couple of ways to do it:

  • Using the traditional method: In Windows Explorer right-click on Computer, click on Properties, and click on Windows Experience Index.
  • SNAGHTML32dfd04In the Windows 8 Start Screen type ‘experience’ (or enough of the word for it to be recognized.  Make sure you are in the Settings context, and click Use tools to improve performance.

From the Performance Information and Tools screen, click either Run the assessment or, if you have already run it previously, click Re-run the assessment.  Remember, it will not work if you are running on battery power… you will have to plug in your laptops to run it!  Also if you are running off a boot-from-VHD you can’t run it because the VHD performance interferes with the ability to measure the actual hard disk speed.

Windows 8 is faster than any operating system I have ever seen, even on legacy hardware.  However on newer hardware it is going to be incredible; the only issue with that right now is that you are going to have to wait until October 26th to buy it! Smile

Getting used to Windows 8…

I have finally done it.  I have ‘made the leap’ to Windows 8 on my primary laptop.

I am sure a lot of people are surprised that it has taken me this long, and I want to reassure you that no, this is not my first kick at the can.  I was among the first running Windows Vista, I was then among the first to be running Windows 7, and now I know that a lot of you probably beat me to the punch on Windows 8, but it is not a competition.

Of course, I did install the original ‘Developer Preview’ of Windows 8 back in September (October?) and, like many of you, was shocked by the differences.  Those of us who have known Windows for years – my experience with Windows actually does date back to Windows 1.0, but for the sake of modernity let’s call the birth of the Start Menu the genesis for most people, back in 1995.  That makes the modern Windows operating system seventeen years old, and some habits die hard.

When I decided to start running Windows Vista in the early betas I quickly realized that my Toshiba A70 laptop was not going to cut it.  Put simply, it did not have the horsepower for Vista.  I sold it and invested in an Acer Ferrari 4005 which was my first x64 system, had 2.0GB RAM, an AMD Turuon CPU, and the ATI RADEON X700 video chip, sufficient to meet the LDDM (to be renamed WDDM) requirements for Aero Glass and the other hot improvements over Windows XP.  First I had to find a buyer for the Toshiba, because there was no way I could have afforded multiple laptops at the time.

Fast forward to 2012, I have eleven or twelve laptops in the house, each of which has the power to run Windows 7 flawlessly (including the two Macs I have for reasons I cannot remember).  So when Microsoft released their pre-release operating system I was able to hedge my bets… I could run Windows 8 on a secondary system, while keeping my primary system running Windows 7, with all of my applications, data, and settings.

While this decision was not a mistake, in retrospect it would be a hindrance to my immersion in the Windows 8 experience.  The reality is that what I do on a day-to-day basis in 2012 is much more critical than it was in 2005, and the fall-back position of installing on a secondary laptop just made sense… earlier on.  In fact even when the Consumer Preview was released, I still decided to run it on a second machine.

The Release Preview, the latest pre-release version to come out of Redmond, was released on May 28th, which made for singularly bad timing for me.  Firstly, I was on the road (not an uncommon occurrence).  Secondly (and more importantly to the timing) it was the week before I was to test for my Second Dan Black Belt… followed by a three-city whirlwind trip that would not afford me a lot of free time.

Earlier this week, while my students were writing labs, I popped in the installation media and took the plunge.  I have been enjoying the experience, although I do admit that it frustrates me that things aren’t where I expect them to be.  That will take some getting used to.

The one thing that I did with this install that I had not done previously was connecting it to my docking station.  I was glad that everything worked right away, with the exception of one device driver (the Toshiba DisplayLink USB to VGA), but as soon as I went to their site I was able to find the right driver immediately.

Once you are on multiple monitors – extended displays rather than duplicated displays – the experience is a pleasure.    Metro – you will love it or hate it – is no longer all-encompassing, and when it is relegated to a single screen of three (and then only when you call for it) it is easier to get used to the changes.

As well, the corners of all three of my screens are live.  While the display properties still refers to one as the ‘primary display’ the only reason I can see for this is the pop-ups for legacy applications such as Live Messenger.  So with all of my monitors being ‘hot’ I can choose to open my Metro (Start) menu on any of the screens, like this:




or of course my favourite:


I should clarify that the reason this is my favourite of the three is because the smaller display (the primary laptop display next to the two 24” LG Flatron monitors) is a touch screen, and I can still take advantage of all of the touch capabilities of Windows 8 and Metro on that screen – which I cannot do on my desktop displays.


I also like the fact that without any tweaking on my part the three screens display different desktop backgrounds from the same theme.  Of course this is a cosmetic improvement that really offers no usability benefit, it is still nice to have.  I noticed it quite by accident earlier today, and will probably not think of it again anytime soon.

I am really looking forward to my primary applications running in Metro.  As far as desktop applications go I spend most of my time in Microsoft Office, Windows Live Writer, and Internet Explorer.  So far IE is the only one that has made the jump, and until the others go I will be glad that I can still switch out of Metro as easily as I can.  I have heard rumours of an Office 15 beta coming up soon, and I look forward to that for the experience.  Windows Live Writer will likely be rebranded – as I said, Windows Live is dead.  I assume the next version will be Metro… but who knows for sure?

Twitter and Internet Explorer go both ways Winking smile On my previous Windows 8 installations I would install a 3rd party Twitter app like MetroTweet, but on this one I am just as happy using Rowi, which is available in the Store.  I tried another of the clients but did not like the experience as much as Rowi.  Internet Explorer, on the other hand, I can go back and forth with… the Metro versus Desktop app seem to work the same for my needs… but on the big screens I tend to gravitate toward the desktop version.

Incidentally I was watching a movie on the train the other day with the built-in Metro app, and it works and feels great… the only thing that I didn’t like was that when you tab to a different application (Metro or Desktop) the movie pauses.  I like being able to have the movie continue in the background if I am doing other things.  I am sure if I were to download a 3rd party player (like DivX Player) it would work… possibly as long as I was tabbing between desktop apps… will have to look into that.

I absolutely love the speed of Windows 8.  From boot time to usability it is simply the best OS I have come across.  As a huge Windows lover over the past several years it has frustrated me that, no matter how good the hardware is (and I usually have some pretty top-of-the-line hardware) it always seems to slow down as I install applications.  The new memory management of Windows 8 – where it puts unused apps into a dormant state so that they free up the memory until you need them again – is absolutely spectacular, and worth the price of the upgrade (I know, I’m being a smart-ass, since the price for me is Zero).

Oh by the way, the fact that there was only one driver that wasn’t completely compatible, and so far no applications that aren’t, makes me glad that I am finally on Windows 8.  I will still need time to get used to a lot of things, but if I start now or at RTM I will still need to do that.

Remember folks, that Windows 8 is still a pre-release operating system.  It is not meant for everyone, and if you are not prepared to work in an environment where you likely will not get support – either from Microsoft or from the application vendors – then it is not for you.  Most people seem to miss the disclaimers about this, and I want to be clear… do not install it on your primary computer if you are not prepared for the worst case scenario!

Other than than… it is definitely worth a try.  If you have a touch screen then you might want to run and not walk to get this… it is just a spectacular experience.  Even if you don’t have touch though, I expect this OS is going to be hot… especially to those of us who are impatient and need to speed everything up to happen NOW!

Creating a Multi-OS Environment with Boot from VHD

Computers that contain this sticker met the re...

I spend a lot of time demonstrating different technologies for different audiences.  Because of that I often need to use different operating systems and rather than take along several machines (which I often have to do anyways, but for other reasons) I have taken to configuring my laptop (currently an HP EliteBook 2740p) in a multi-book configuration.  When I boot up I get a menu asking me which OS instance I want to boot, and I am off to the races!

Of course, this is easier said then done when some of the operating systems that I use and present change as often as they do – either because of things that I do (domain join, virtualization demos) or new versions (as is the case with the current Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012).  This problem is easily solved using the Boot from VHD (virtual hard disk) functionality in Windows 7 (and later).

Step 1: Preparing your host system

Although this is not strictly necessary, I like to partition my physical hard drive and place the VHDs on a separate partition from the operating system that is installed on the physical disk.  This is partially a legacy practice from when I would install all of my operating systems for the multi-boot scenario on the disk itself.  My current configuration has three partitions, one whose sole purpose is storing the OS VHDs.  However thinking about it logically, there is no good reason I can think of why you can’t simply store the VHDs on the C drive.

You need to have the source media for the operating system you plan to install, as well as the imagex.exe file, which is a component of the Windows Automated Installation Kit.  You can download this from, but make sure you download the version appropriate for the operating system and architecture on which you are installing it.

Because I often work with multiple images, I create a directory on my system called d:\VHDs, and in that folder I create a sub-folder for each image file.  So I may have the following directories:

  • d:\VHDs\Windows8RP
  • d:\VHDs\Windows2K8R2
  • d:\VHDs\Windows2012RC
      I prepare the media by copying the


      program into the


      folder, and then from the media of each OS I copy the


      file from the


      directory into the appropriate subdirectory.  The


    files are the actual image files of the operating system, and have been standardized since Server 2008 (and Vista).

Step 2: Creating a VHD

There are a couple of ways you can create VHD files within Windows.  I prefer to use the Disk Partition Tool (diskpart.exe) but if you want you can also use the Disk Management Tool within the GUI.

  1. In the Start Menu type cmd.exe and press <Enter>.
  2. In the command prompt window type diskpart.exe.  You should be prompted with a User Account Control window asking for confirmation. (If you are not an administrator you will be asked for credentials)  Click Yes.
  3. (Determine where you will store your virtual disk, and what you will name it.  for this example I will call it d:\VHDs\Svr2K8r2.vhd) Type create vdisk file=”d:\VHDs\Svr2K8r2.vhd” maximum=20480.  This will create a 20GB VHD file.
  4. Type select vdisk file=”d:\VHDs\Svr2K8r2.vhd”
  5. Type attach vdisk
  6. Type list disk.  You should now see a new 20GB disk (the line should have an asterix at the beginning).
  7. Type exit to quit the Disk Partition Tool.


    I created a 20GB VHD file, but you can size this to your needs.  Remember, you may also be installing applications, data, and other tools into your VHD file.  However size it to your needs and storage limitations.  The minimum should be no less than 9 for Windows 7, 10 for Windows Server 2008 R2.

Step 3: Apply the image to the VHD file

Now that our VHD file is attached to the computer, it is visible in Disk Manager.  Load that up (right-click on Computer, click Manage, and in the navigation pane click Disk Management) and initialize the disk, and then create a simple volume.  Take note of the drive letter that is assigned to it.  For the sake of the later step, let’s say the letter F: was assigned.

We can now apply the image using the ImageX tool.

  1. In the command prompt navigate to the d:\VHDs folder.
  2. Because .wim files can contain multiple builds of an OS (such as Windows 7 Ultimate, Professional, and Home Premium) we have to determine which one we will deploy by specifying the index that corresponds to the proper edition.  Use the following command to check the Index value of the operating system you want to build: imagex /info d:\vhds\Windows2k8R2\install.wim.  This will display all of the editions within the .wim file.  If you have a .wim file containing several builds you may want to add the switch |more onto the end so that it will allow you to scroll.
  3. In this case I want to build a VHD with Windows Server 2008 R2 Datacenter Edition (Full install), which might be Index 4.  I will type the following command: imagex /apply d:\VHDs\Windows2k8r2\install.wim 4 F:\ (Here the source media file is d:\vhds\Windows2k8r2\install.wim, and the drive letter assigned to the VHD is F:).

Step 3 will take a few minutes, but when it is done you can list the files and see that it resembles a bootable Windows 2008 R2 hard drive.  The problem is that most hardware will not recognize a VHD file as a boot device, so we need to edit the boot configuration data file, or BCD. 

Step 4: Editing your Boot Configuration Devices (BCD) file

Although this can be done from the command line (using bcdedit.exe) it is a bit of a pain.  there is a free (for personal use only) GUI tool called EasyBCD 2.1.2 which can do it for you. 

  1. Download BCDEdit 2.1.2 from  Install the program and run it.
  2. Accept the EULA.  Please note that if you are using this for your work then you must buy the paid version.
  3. From the menu on the left select Add New Entry
  4. In the lower half of the window there is the option to add a Portable/External Media entry to the BCD list.  Ensure that Microsoft VHD is selected in the Type box.
  5. In the name box type the name that you want to appear in the boot menu (such as Microsoft Windows Server 2008 R2 Datacenter Edition (VHD).
  6. In the path box browse to the location of your VHD file (d:\VHDs\Svr2k8r2.vhd).
  7. Click Add Entry.

You are done!  All ready to go.

For Bonus Points!

  • Within EasyBCD you can click on the Edit Boot Menu option on the left, and choose which OS you want to be your default, and your timeout delay… but you have done it!  You are ready to restart into either operating system!
  • If you want to be able to revert your VHD configuration to this moment all you have to do is copy the VHD file to an alternate location.  If you ever hork things up all you have to do is copy over the original and poof, you are clean!
  • If you want to get fancy you can add several bootable VHDs to this menu… just follow the same steps!

That’s it.  The multi-boot option gets fancier in Windows 8, and I will cover that in a later article.  For now, as you know I always look forward to your comments and thoughts, and who knows… I might even give away the occasional prize for a good comment!

Windows To Go: This is going to be a game changer!

Image representing Windows as depicted in Crun...

I have said before that I am not sure that Windows 8 is going to have the adoption rates that Windows 7 has had, and that it is more likely that Windows 7 will remain the dominant operating system in the enterprise.  If companies are going to be convinced to switch, it will be by new features such as Windows To Go (WTG), which allows us to install Windows 8 on a USB key, configure that key with our applications and security requirements (including domain join, group policy, Direct Access, and more), and then boot from that USB key on any computer in the world.


So imagine you are visiting your in-laws in Podunk, and they have their trusty old Windows XP Home machine, and you can pop in your USB key, boot from it, do all of your work with all of your applications while connected to your corporate network, all the while without affecting their XP Home setup with their own games and stuff.


  • You have to build this USB key from a system running Windows 8.
  • You have to have a USB 3.0 port on that system (which is a requirement to build, but not to use Windows to Go).
  • You have to have the source media for Windows 8, which can be either an ISO or a DVD (or any media with the original install.wim file on it.
  • You have to have a USB stick that is compatible with Windows to Go.  Sorry folks, just any USB key that you get from a trade show giveaway will not work.  I use the Kingston DT Ultimate G2 16GB, which cost me a little under $70 on  I hope that Microsoft will make a comprehensive list available soon, but nothing so far.

Step by Step: Create your Windows to Go key!

  1. Open a command prompt with Administrative credentials.  You are going to use the single most destructive tool within Windows, and you need to Run As Administrator to use it.
  2. Open the Disk Partition Tool (diskpart.exe).
  3. Type list disk (expert tip: you can save time by typing the first three letters of any command in diskpart, so lis dis would work just as well).
  4. Once you see the list of disks in your system, insert your new USB 3.0 key into an appropriate port.  Wait a few seconds, then type lis dis again.  Note the number of the new drive.
  5. Type select disk # .  Make sure that # is the number of the new drive or bad things will happen!
  6. Type Clean.  This command will destroy everything on the drive – files, partitions, all gone.  See why I call it destructive?  There is no Undo command.
  7. Type create partition primary (cre par pri).  This creates a new partition on the key.
  8. Format the new partition by typing format fs=ntfs quick.  It will only take a few seconds (hence the QUICK command switch).
  9. To make it a bootable disk type Active.
  10. Assign a drive letter to it by typing assign.
  11. Exit the Disk Partition Tool by typing exit.
  12. Mount the Windows 8 media (if you have an ISO) or insert the disk into the drive.
  13. At this point you have to check the drive letter for both the USB key and the Windows 8 media.  These will be different for each machine, but for my example we will say that the USB key is F: and the Windows 8 media is G:.
  14. Now we have to apply the Windows 8 image to the key.  Navigate to the Windows 8 media and type:

dism /apply-image /imagefile=g:\sources\install.wim /index:1 /applydir:f:\ 

You should receive output that looks like this:

Applying image

[===============40.0% ]

The above line is your progress bar, and when it reaches 100% the image will be completed.  You then have to type the following command to create the Boot Configuration Data file which allows your computer to select an operating system:

bcdboot.exe f:\Windows /s f: /f ALL

That should do it… try booting from the key (many systems need for you to press F9 or F12 to select the boot menu when turning on the system, and will not see the USB key unless it was booted plugged in.  Select the key, and if it boots from the key then you are now the proud owner of a Windows to Go key!