Windows 10 is Here!

Windows 10 has been unleashed on the masses (67 million as of this posting).  I’ve been running Windows 10 in its beta form for the past 8 months on my work PC and it’s been a bit of a bumpy ride…that’s to be expected for beta software. I’ve upgraded my work PC to 10240 as part of the Windows Insider program about 2 weeks ago and 3 computers at home in the past 48 hours with the following results:

1. Sager Laptop

Clicked upgrade through the notification icon in the taskbar and applied upgrade.  Everything came over 100% except my wallpaper.  I reformatted a USB flash drive with diskpart and then Windows 10 wouldn’t see it anymore, however it could see other USB flash drives just fine.  The “bad” USB flash drive works fine on other computers, but no longer on my Windows 10 laptop.

2. Main Rig

Upgrade icon was there, but was not offering the download/install yet.  Grabbed the ISO off the Internet and did the installation manually.  Wouldn’t activate right away.  Makes Edge browser the default handler for HTTP links…this browser doesn’t support extensions yet and is a bit buggy (doesn’t work properly with the realtor site FlexMLS…Chrome does).   Video driver on my GTX 670 was completely kicked out…had to download a fresh/updated driver directly from NVIDIA.

3. File server

This went fine over RDP using the ISO download from #2 (wasn’t allowing me to pick download/install either), except RDP doesn’t work at the “welcome back” screen.  Had to switch over with my KVM and input my password, then RDP flipped on just fine.

Also noticed that the upgrade disables the local Administrator account, so I had to re-enable it again on all computers.

In terms of activation…this much has been confirmed:

If you upgrade an activated copy of Windows 7, Windows 8 or Windows 8.1 to Windows 10, you can wipe the hard drive clean and reinstall Windows 10 and it will find your activation status (based on MAC and serial # of the computer and possibly other components).  If you spin up a VM with a blank hard drive and install Windows 10: it will NOT activate without a purchased product key.  This has been proven by people on Reddit.

A service release (called SR1) is due for Windows 10 in 2 weeks to fix some of the bugs.

– Soli Deo Gloria

Windows 10: A Review

So by now you’ve heard the news that Windows 10 will be free for Windows 7 and 8 users for the first year.  I recently took the plunge and updated my work PC from Windows 8 to Windows 10.  The official release is probably about 8 months away, but so far I am liking Windows 10.  It fixes a lot of what is wrong with Windows 8, namely it brings back the start menu (thank you Microsoft), gets rid of the charms bar in the corners (thank you Microsoft) and allows Modern apps to be “windowed” on the desktop (thank you Microsoft).

However, all of this stuff should have been in Windows 8 already and yet again we have another Vista on our hands: that is Windows 8.  At least Microsoft saw the error of its ways and corrected the ship instead of sinking it.  Being able to upgrade your OS with Windows Update is totally cool and long overdue!

Pros:

The search bar in the task bar.  If you know what you are looking for, it’s a quick way to have it search the whole C drive and bring it up for you.  Win.

Notifications icon in the taskbar to get to common settings quickly.

Virtual desktops: yes!  One less thing for the Linux boys to rave about.

Cons:

Even though the start menu is back, I miss drilling through a logical folder structure to get to things.  I still find myself making a shortcut to C:ProgramDataMicrosoftWindowsStart Menu on the desktop to get the “old start menu” structure back.

Appears to be missing Windows Media Center…maybe this will come back in a later build?

Task Manager really needs to be replaced with Process Explorer or beefed up.  It’s essentially a hold over from Windows 8 showing little to no detail on running processes.

– Soli Deo Gloria

Fastmail.fm: Fall in love with e-mail again

My e-mail has been pretty stable.  I was using my own domain leinss.com with Tuffmail for the past 9 years.  Tuffmail has been rock solid, but has been lacking in infrastructure upgrades.  Recently, I tried changing my password on Tuffmail and had to contact tech support to do so.  The writing was on the wall: it was time to look for alternatives.  I copied all my e-mail over to my web host Eleven2.  They offer unlimited mailboxes and bandwidth.  It was already included in the price I pay for web hosting, so why not?  Well, I can tell you why not.  First, Eleven2 is a web host and not an e-mail provider.  The controls you have over your e-mail are very basic and I got a lot more spam than I did at Tuffmail.  I tried to e-mail an ATT e-mail address and it was bounced back: the server my website is on was on some type of blacklist.  Then, I couldn’t get to Eleven2 at all: they had blacklisted my IP for too many failed IMAP logins (what?).  Enough was enough: I had to move, AGAIN.

I decided to try Fastmail.fm since it is highly recommended over at www.emailaddresses.com and I have to say: I found my new home!  I love the web interface: simple, elegant, clean and functional.  Tons of options you can configure…setting up my aliases and rules was a breeze. Discounts for multiple year subscriptions.  Clear descriptions on each account level.  Oh look: you can import e-mail from another provider!  I tried it and it worked flawlessly.  Wow, I’m hooked!

Then it was to over to configure Outlook 2013 to work with Fastmail and that’s where the trouble started.  For some reason, Outlook would show me new mail in Inbox but not any of the subfolders I had created unless I clicked on each folder.  Basically, my setup is if you e-mail something@leinss.com, I create a rule for that alias and then move that message into the something folder.  It helps route messages into bins for sorting.  If someone adds something@leinss.com to a spam list, I can delete and re-create a new alias.  I deleted and re-created the account in Outlook several times, toying with settings…no dice.

I went looking on the Internet for a new mail client.  Ah, there was Eudora!  I had used that for many years back in the 90s.  I loaded it and yeah…crash, crash, crash.  Tried Operamail and then I tried Mailbird and this program actually worked correctly with IMAP at Fastmail. Mailbird allows you to add up to 3 accounts in the lite version…works naively with Google’s calendar…very nice!  It can check all 3 of my accounts and then it places the number of new messages in a little envelope in the taskbar.  Goodbye Outlook 2013!

– Soli Deo Gloria

Random Thoughts on Microsoft

I finally stepped into the 21st century…sorta.  I’ve had desktops and laptops, but no smartphone or tablet.  I am now the proud owner of a Nexus 7 tablet.  I mainly got the device to watch videos while I work out on the elliptical (can’t get enough of those UK shows with Gordon Ramsey!).  However, I do have to say I’ve become “addicted” to this device.  I can drag and drop magazine PDFs to the device and read them anywhere and the battery life is amazing.  I can check e-mail from all 3 of my main accounts with a few flicks of my finger.  I can check the weather, browse the web and shop all from the comfort of my chair.  This Android operating system is pretty amazing…fast, clean and stable.

Then I think about Microsoft and the debacle of the Start Menu and Microsoft removing features such as Windows Media Center and DVD playback from Windows 8.  Just last week Microsoft announced its retiring Technet subscriptions for its IT professionals, a subscription service I’ve had for the past 7 years.  Microsoft may remain king of the desktop, but I don’t see it making any major in-roads to the tablet market.  It’s too late to the game and its current attitude towards customers does not bode well for its future.

However, I don’t see tablets replacing laptops or desktops either…typing is a chore on these things and at least for the Nexus 7, the lack of ports kills its expandability.  One possibility I see is people transferring to Android applications on Windows through the use of emulation.  Ween yourself off enough Windows applications and why you do you need Windows anymore?   Emulation of Windows from the Android side?  Don’t laugh: it could happen.  Pick up a cheap copy of Windows 7 and emulate that from your new device running something other then Windows.

Personally, I think that’s a long way off…maybe 15-20 years from now.  Microsoft is kidding itself, however, if it thinks it’s going to remain king of operating systems forever.

– Soli Deo Gloria

An Inplace Upgrade to Windows 8

Maybe I’m getting old and cranky, but I’m not really excited about this version of Windows.  I downloaded the RTM bits from Technet on 8/15/12 and installed the Enterprise version at work in a VM. On Friday night, I decided to upgrade my laptop (a Dell e6420) running Windows 7 Professional to Windows 8 Professional before taking the plunge on my main desktop.  The first thing I noticed is that the retail media now requires you to enter a product key and will not let you go further without it.  This is a pain in the neck…what if I just want to evaluate Windows 8 and not activate it?  The Enterprise version by default does not ask for a product key.  I went to the Technet web page and copied and pasted the key.  It ran a compatibility check and told me I had to remove Microsoft Security Essentials (Windows 8 comes with its own AV solution), the bluetooth drivers and the wireless drivers.  It also wanted me to plug in the AC adaptor.  I removed all items and rebooted.  I re-ran the setup and it wanted the product key again.  Now I had no Internet because I had to remove the wireless drivers, so I had to manually key in the product key from another computer (grumble).  It still would not let me upgrade without plugging in the AC adaptor.  I plugged it in and then it proceeded with the setup, so I unplugged it, but thought better of it…who knows what Windows will do if it finds out later on that it is on battery power (like cancelling the upgrade!).  I told it to keep all programs, settings and personal files.

After the upgrade, I noticed the wallpaper and my profile picture was not migrated, but were reset to the default pictures.  All of the files and programs did seem to be intact, however.  I had no Internet access, because I had removed the wireless drivers which in turn likely wiped out my connection settings, so I had to manually key those back in.  Certainly not a seamless upgrade.  I attempted to launch Mobaxterm and was told by Smartscreen that the publisher wasn’t recognized and did I really want to run this program?  That’s fine in Internet Explorer, but not the main operating system, so I headed to the Action Center to turn Smartscreen off.

I immediately loaded Classic Shell, because not having the start menu is not an option.  If you are looking for a hotkey to get some type of menu before hand, try Windows Key-X.  Classic Shell also bypasses the Metro screen by default (can be turned off) and the next version will allow disabling of the “charm” corners (all or a select few).  I also noticed that Windows went ahead and activated itself right away with Microsoft. In Windows 7, it would give you 3 days to activate.  Maybe I didn’t want to activate Windows just yet…maybe I wanted to move Windows 8 to another piece of hardware…why does Windows activate itself without my permission?  Do you have to keep it off the Internet to evaluate it?

I had been using Windows XP Mode on this laptop, but Windows XP Mode is no more in Windows 8.  It’s now been replaced by Hyper-V.  Hyper-V is great and all, but what about all the setup I did in my XP VHD?  I went ahead and made a new VM in Hyper-V and attached the Windows XP Mode.VHD file.  As expected: Windows XP wanted activation and would not let me proceed further.  The version of Windows XP in Windows XP Mode is BIOS locked to the BIOS that Virtual PC emulates.   So if you want to use XP in Windows 8, you need a retail/volume copy, a license and you need to set it up from scratch.  Bummer, this is progress?  The new Windows explorer does load VHD files natively just by clicking on them, which is a nice touch, meaning you can get all of your data out of the VHD (I guess this also works for ISO and IMG files: no more having to load Virtual CloneDrive).

Also, the removal of Windows Media Center is disappointing…Microsoft is trying to kill it off: http://thedigitalmediazone.com/2012/06/06/windows-8-media-center-startup-options/.  No longer can you boot directly into Windows Media Center and Microsoft is no longer logo certifying hardware tuners for Windows 8.  Guess my HTPC is being left with Windows 7 Ultimate.

Windows 8 also comes bundled with certain Metro applications for dealing with files, such as PDF and music files.  When you double-click on a file ending with .PDF, it switches to the Metro desktop away from the “desktop” or “Win32” environment.  Annoying.  This can be changed of course back to the default applications you want to open these types of files, but why would I want a Metro application on my desktop to open a PDF?  Suggestion to Microsoft: detect the chassis of the equipment Windows is installing on and give different options to desktop users, laptop users and tablet users.  Speaking of Metro, how the heck do you get out of the “Personalize your Computer” page?  ESC key doesn’t work and there is no X to get out.  I had to keep using Windows Key – X to go back to the desktop.

Now the good…I do like the new Windows explorer and the tabbed top section.  To view hidden files, all I had to do is click the view tab and then check mark “Hidden items”.   It still won’t replace XYExplorer, however, for heavier operations. The ability to pause file copy operations is a long overdue feature in Windows.  Task manager (under the performance tab) now includes an uptime count and mini graphs for CPU, memory, disk, and Ethernet: very cool!  Performance seems good as well: mainly in the startup and shutdown phases.

I have yet to find the “killer app” in Windows 8.  There’s nothing in Windows 8 that jumps out and says “I can’t live without this feature”.  However, with the $40 promotional upgrade, it’s a relatively painless upgrade to the pocket book.  Just be prepared to do some tweaking to get things the way you like.

– Soli Deo Gloria

Windows 8 – Consumer Preview – First Impressions

After the Developer Release left a bad taste in my mouth, I was prompted to try the Windows 8 Consumer Preview from a fellow tech, who claimed he really liked Windows 8.  The one thing that really bothers still is the inability to disable the Metro start page and the removal of the start menu in the desktop application.  One way around the start menu snafu is to put it back using Classic Shell.  This actually does a good job, except that the Metro start page sometimes tries to take over when you hover your mouse too far to the bottom left.  Leave Metro for the tablets I say and leave the classic Windows desktop for laptops/desktops.

The task manager in Windows 8 is really bland and the default configuration gives less information then even the Windows 7 task manager (also noted by Mark Russinovich during his malware speech: malware can more easily hide now).  Windows’ 7 task manager actually does a good job of separating user and system processes so you can easily see what is running on your system.

The one thing I do like about Windows 8 is the file copying process.  If you copy files and folders from multiple locations, you can now pause specific copies.  Overall, the operating system seems snappy.  If they can just fix that darn Metro starting interface, it would be perfect.

– Soli Deo Gloria

Google Voice: Power to the People!

Lately, I’ve had a phone that just keeps randomly calling my cell phone.  It appears to be some magazine subscription service. I get at least 2 calls a day and let’s just say it’s really annoying. Don’t have to use my imagination to think that this is probably some type of obnoxious robocall service.

I rarely use my phone, so I have a prepaid plan with over 3000 minutes (accumulated over a few years of light use), with a max cap of 5000 minutes.   After digging around on the Internet, I discovered that Google Voice can block calls with a very cool message: “this phone number is no longer in service”. Sounds like the real deal too!  Even more cool is that I can have it notify me when I’ve missed a call through the Google Voice extension for Chrome or alert me to a new voice message that I can play right from the Internet.  All I have to do is forward my phone number to Google Voice.

It seems odd that blocking e-mail addresses is pretty trivial these days (Hotmail.com even allows top-level domain blocking!), but nothing like that seems to exist for most cell phone providers. AT&T has a parental control service that they will sell you for $5/month, but it doesn’t work for prepaid plans. Bummer.  Maybe with all the FCC regulations that we now have on the books, maybe we can add 1 more that would require cell phone providers to allow all customers to block phone numbers of their choice from a web page.  Crazy?

The one caveat to using Google Voice with conditional forwarding is that this will use the phone plan’s airtime minutes: basically, it costs me 10 cents every time someone calls me regardless of whether they leave a message.  Given that I add $100/year to carry over the unused minutes, I’m only paying about $8.33/month to keep to the right to use the phone when I want.

Scott Hanselman’s 2011 Power Users Tool List for Windows

A very nice list of power tools by Scott Hanselman. Most of these are free.

I would add the following to the list (most of which have already been mentioned on my blog some where in the past):

DesktopOK – Save and restore the positions of desktop icons.

DontSleep – Don’t Sleep is a small portable program to prevent system shutdown, Standby, Hibernate, Turn Off and Restart.

MobaXterm – Like Putty/SecureCRT, but better.  Allows you to run XWindows apps over a ssh connection.

Agent Ransack – Search utility that adds a context menu for searching and allows advanced searching features such as searching for a text string in a set of files.

DirSync Pro – DirSync Pro is a small, but powerful utility for file and folder synchronization. DirSync Pro can be used to synchronize the content of one or many folders recursively.

GreenShot – Greenshot is a light-weight screenshot software tool for Windows.

FF File Time – A program that allows you to easily modify the time stamps of any file on your computer. It features an easy to use GUI that offers the possibility to modify not only single but also multiple files or whole directories.

Google Chrome – My favorite web browser! Add addons from the Chrome store such as GMail, Google Voice, Adblock and IETabs.

Free Download Manager – Why buy GetRight when you can use this program for free?  Helps with troublesome downloads that like to stall out in web browsers.

Secunia Personal Software Inspector (PSI) – Secunia PSI is a security scanner which identifies programs that are insecure and need updates. It even automates the updating of many of these programs, making it a lot easier to maintain a secure PC.

QEMU Manager – Lightweight Virtual Machine emulator.  Also has versions that run from a USB flash device.  Seems to only use its own internal DHCP server and won’t use an external network’s DHCP server.

Zip2Secure – “ZIP 2 Secure EXE” is a utility program that creates self-extracting EXE files for Windows.  Self-extracting EXE files are executable programs (EXEs) that contain a ZIP file and the software necessary to unzip the contents.  No other software is needed.

– Soli Deo Gloria

Wondershare Liveboot 2012 (Normally $59.95) for Free

Wondershare Liveboot 2012 normally sells for $59.95. However, between now and August 12, you can download it for free! Instructions for doing so are here:
http://www.techsupportalert.com/content/get-60-bootable-troubleshooting-tool-free.htm

I downloaded the program and installed it. It contains a flat ISO @
C:Program FilesWondershareLiveBoot 2012Wondershare LiveBoot.iso.
It is Windows 7 based and seems pretty decent. I found that you can reset local account
passwords, find the installed Windows installation key, clone or wipe the hard drive and
even includes the ability to restore a good copy of the system registry by letting you
point to one in one of the system restore point folders. The Microsoft Safety Scanner
does work in this boot CD (unlike WinPE 3.0), so it might be handy to download it just for that.

You will need at least 1GB of memory to use this boot disc.  Although it seems to boot with 512MB, you won’t be able to run any applications without getting weird errors.

Update (10/13/12): Appears you can still download this!  See http://slickdeals.net/f/3181943-FREE-Wondershare-LiveBoot-2012

– Soli Deo Gloria

Carry most of your CDs and DVDs in your Pocket

I love toys, so I bought myself an iodd 2511 from Korea.  What does it do?  Well, you can read about the model 2501 from http://grandstreamdreams.blogspot.com/2010/07/iodd-multi-boot-madness.html. Basically, it’s a 2.5 SATA hard drive enclosure that acts like a CD/DVD ROM emulator.  You take ISO images of your CD/DVDs and stick them into the _ISO folder on the hard drive (I thought it was unlimited, but then I got an error “Too many files!” on the LCD screen.  I think the limit is around 30 ISOs in _ISO, so when you reach that limit, you will likely need to move ISOs in and out to keep under the limit).  When you do a select boot at your BIOS (or UEFI, pronounced U-FEE) screen, it should show up an iodd CD emulator device.  You use a toggle wheel on the left side to pick which ISO you want and viola, you’re booting from the bootable CD/DVD!  Note that model 2511 does support NTFS as the file system: you don’t have to use FAT32 and there is a firmware update for the 2501 adding NTFS support.

The device also acts as a CD/DVD emulator in Windows without the use of any software, so you can go right to the user’s PC and load any ISO as a drive letter without installing any software.  The device also has a read/write switch in case you want to protect it from that virus infected neighbor PC.

I got my device from eBay from a seller named elec*star within a week for $78.99.

– Soli Deo Gloria