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Upgrade or Else?

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So my neighbor called in a panic (again). Late last night, her system had begun to talk to her, warning her that the only way to rescue it was to call an 800 number. Yeah, most (but not nearly all) of us know this is a scam—and a lame one at that.

But what if Windows itself throws up a dialog that says: “Okay, when do want to schedule your upgrade to Windows 10?” It’s like your wife asking “When do you want to visit my mother, today or tomorrow?”

No, upgrading to Windows 10 isn’t as bad as a visit to Kansas in the summer but many (many) of us are avoiding it. My neighbor heard Windows 10 is “simply awful.”

“Where did you hear that?” I ask.
”You said so.”
”What? When?”
”A couple of years ago. You were having a lot of trouble with it,” she says.
”That was then. That was before they made a dozen fixes and several major updates. It’s fine now.”

I made a mental note to never tell her anything. I went on to assure her that I was running Windows 10 on all of the systems which could support it. My wife’s system won’t—it’s an old Pentium system and she’s thrilled she does not have to upgrade.

“I like it the way it is.” she said. It’s one of her mantras.

But to the point. Notice that this dialog does not have a close button. You either schedule the update (and it won’t let you schedule it after your 89th birthday) or do it now. IMHO, this is arrogant. Again, Microsoft needs an “Opt Out” checkbox for those who know they can’t upgrade. Sometimes it’s in the middle of tax season, or just before finals or some other important task must be completed. Maybe it’s just too intimidating.

Since my neighbor was celebrating a birthday, I promised to upgraded her system for her. I set it up in my office and let it update—it took most of the day. After having clicked “Start the Upgrade Now” the system rebooted—and started nothing. I finally ended up installing from the Media Creation Tool. I’ve had to resort to this on several WinX installs for one reason or another. It just works.

One persistent problem I found during the update was black screens. While the hard disk light was flashing, the screen was black—for a long time (hours). It finally came back to life and started a giant countdown clock. Eventually, the system came back to life. It all worked. Her (precious) pictures were where she expected them to be (in the pictures folder), her icons and programs were all there. Chrome was still installed and still had her shortcuts. The tool bar looked just like it did before. It took me twenty minutes to show her Windows 10 would work pretty much like Windows 7.

“Thanks,” she said.
”You’re welcome. And don’t call me after six.”

 

 

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For those of you who have known me for any length of time know I’m not a Microsoft “booster.” I’m a consumer advocate. And yes, I have a great deal of experience with PCs. I’ve been building my own computers since the mid-‘70s and in the early days, even written my own operating systems.

This article discusses a topic near and dear to my heart—Windows 10 updates.

5-21-2016 8-21-06 AMToday, I came across a rather disturbing Facebook thread discussing Microsoft’s new push to get older systems converted to Windows 10. Now, before I get started, understand I’m on your side. I too have systems that simply can’t convert past Windows 7. One has an “old” Pentium 4 processor, the other is running Windows Media Center. All of my other desktops, laptops and notebooks are running Windows 10. And yes, I agree, Microsoft comes off as an arrogant prick when it tries to update your systems over your objections or late at night when you’re not watching. And yes, IMHO, they could have done a much better job with this rollout—but I’ll get to that later.

When Windows 8 first came out, it lived on one of my systems from about two days. IMHO, it sucked (that’s a technical term). I simply hated it and restored back to Windows 7 almost immediately. I never upgraded to Windows 8.1. I saw it as lipstick on a pig. As a result, I don’t recommend it.

When Windows 10 was released, I did far more research and liked what I saw. I worked slowly and after doing an image backup, converted my system very early in the WinX rollout. Yes, I had considerable trouble—having to revert my first attempt after only a week of trying to iron out “issues” (that’s what Microsoft calls bugs—it sounds better). However, after waiting another nine months, I gave Windows 10 another try and the system came up. Have I had troubles since? Sure. Let me explain why.

I first started working with Windows in 1986 when I joined Microsoft (I worked there for fourteen years). My first assignment was to help hardware companies (they call them “OEMs”) write device drivers for Windows version 1.0. These complex chunks of code are used to connect Windows to video cards, printers and peripherals of all kinds from keyboards to mice to scanners. They weren’t easy to write—even in the old days—they required a very highly skilled engineer and lots of testing. Today, given the heightened emphasis on security, device drivers are a lot more difficult to write, certify and be accepted by the new versions of Windows. And this assumes the company which owns the hardware is willing to write them. Why would they? Device drivers are generally “included” with the hardware. They come with the printer or video card and folded into the price you pay. If the company has to write a more complex (and safer) version of the driver (especially for an older model) there’s nothing in it for them but good customer service—perhaps you’ll come back to them for an updated printer or a new video card.

Sure, some hardware (systems) manufacturers like Dell, or HP write their own device drivers—but many just use those supplied by their vendors. But companies fail. This is a tough business and many, many hundreds of companies no longer exist—despite having functional hardware still in use all over the world. Therein lies a problem. How to get these old devices to be visible by newer versions of Windows. Well, the Microsoft engineers tried to make it easier by creating “generic” device interfaces which can (usually) interact with older hardware—and it works most of the time, with some notable exceptions as many people in the FB thread mentioned. But, for the most part, if your hardware is old, and the company that sold it is gone, your chance of using it with Windows 10 is slim.

One approach you might try with old hardware is virtualization. That’s implemented in Windows 10 as “HyperV.” Basically, it lets you create a Windows 7 (or XP or Linux) OS within Windows 10 and run your old hardware device drivers from there. This does not always work, but it might be worth a try.

As far as systems support, Microsoft is being hammered to beef up security. We all hear about worms, viruses and malware of every description—even “ransomware” which takes over your system until you pay a fee to get your data back. As a result, Microsoft has dramatically reduced the number of “misbehaving” device drivers, applications and other software it permits to run on your system. This means safer everything. It means your personal information is safer. Your banking and credit account information is more secure—even when you browse to sketchy sites—at least to a greater extent—Microsoft can’t prevent stupid. It turns out that Microsoft discovered Windows XP had some very dangerous flaws which exposed it to all manner of attack and easy access for hackers. Windows 7 is far safer and Windows 10 goes even further to protect you from those who would steal what you own. That’s why Microsoft wants you to install Windows 10—so they can protect you more easily.

Does this mean that Windows 10 is bulletproof? Hardly, but it’s far, far safer than Windows 98 or XP or even Windows 7.

So yes, some of you can’t install Windows 10. I understand that. Sometimes you simply didn’t wait long enough. Windows 10 setup gets into some strange states which make the system appear dead—with a black screen, but it’s still updating. It can take over a day sometimes. Yeah, that’s dumb and Microsoft should have done better, but it might come out of it like your kid in a coma after that bike accident. Based on the comments in the FB thread, some of you have actually given up and thrown away perfectly good systems as you have been unable to resurrect them after a blown Windows installation. That’s a shame. I support my choir, friends and family (I retired from the tech world in 2010) and while I’ve seen some blown installations, I’ve always been able to get the systems back to a functional state—or at least save the data. Yes, I know what I’m doing (mostly). Would you hold a funeral and bury one of your kids alive if you couldn’t get them to wake up? No, you would take them to the ER. Yes, it might cost some money or call in a favor from your brother-in-law to get your system back, but in most cases, your data and pictures and programs are still there waiting for you or the next person who finds your system in the trash—it just takes the right engineer to fix it.

So, if you don’t want to install Windows 10, and this assumes you’ve upgraded to Windows 7 (older versions are simply unsafe to use on the Internet), take the advice of Microsoft MVPs and install GWX Control Panel. This free utility will stop Windows Update from displaying the prompts to upgrade Windows 10 as well as disarm the Windows Updates which will try to update on it’s own. It does NOT disable the other Windows 7 updates which fix a litany of security issues and system problems.

I was told about GWX Control panel from my friends in the Microsoft MVP community. This organization is comprised of computer experts (okay, nerds) like me who donate their time to help Microsoft software users and developers all over the world. They are highly respected and a great resource.

And in closing… Microsoft is a basically good company. Yes, they’re interested in staying in business, but keeping you and your data safe is an integral part of their business model. They could care less about your data. Sure, all the browsers you use farm your posts and searches looking for ways to sell you stuff—that’s why they’re free. And the Windows 10 upgrade is free—until July 2016 when they start charging for it.

But what could Microsoft do better? First, it needs to back off, take a deep breath and understand people don’t like to have stuff (even good stuff) jammed down their throats. Microsoft needs to add a switch “No, don’t try to upgrade” and don’t flip it back—ever. If the consumer wants to upgrade, let them, but FIRST, check the system. As Windows 10 Update worked ten days ago, it spent many hours thrashing my wife’s Pentium 4 system before coming to the conclusion that she was running a Pentium 4—a processor incapable of running Windows 10. This is a brutally simple test that could have been done immediately and saved everyone a lot of time and grief. Ironically, after Windows 7 was (automatically) restored, it asked if she wanted to upgrade (again).

Next, Microsoft needs to be far more diligent in determining which devices are not compatible with Windows 10. Make sure the customer knows they can’t use their ten-year-old (or almost new) printer, video card or knife sharpener before it rips out the system’s brain and tries to replace it ever so gently—with a spoon.


Questions? Just ask.

What am I doing now that I retired from the tech community? I’m a publisher and novelist. Check out http://betav.com.

Have a safe day.

Bill

When my mom was making dinner, my brothers and I would stick our heads in the kitchen and ask if it was time to eat. My mother was what they used to call a “housewife” and she actually “cooked” stuff—not just assemble the parts out of a box. All too often she would tell us “It’s not soup yet,” when the food on the stove had not been sufficiently cooked. It might have smelled delicious and looked edible, but it took time to soften the beans and work the spicy flavors into the meat. She would know when it was ready, even if it took another hour to cook. We never starved. Her cooking was worth waiting for.

I’m afraid Windows 8 isn’t soup yet. I was as anxious as a hungry teen when it came to the official launch of Windows 8. I had heard so many stories about its marvels that I wanted to be one of the first to try it. No, I didn’t try the betas or “nearly ready” versions because I didn’t have the time to build up a separate system or a Hyper-V to host it. I’ve been working with pre-released software for too long to install it over a functioning OS. So I guess I must take part of the blame in Windows 8’s shortcomings.

As I said, I’ve been working with Windows for a long time—since Version 1 when it was delivered on floppies and ran as an application on top of DOS. That was in ‘86 when I first joined Microsoft and worked with the Windows Developer Liaison team. Windows has come a long way since then.

So what happened? Well, there’s a laundry-list of stuff that worked and didn’t work, but I’ll get to that. First consider that I know how complex operating systems can be. I’ve written new OSs, modified other company’s OSs and taught developers how to program to them. I’ve also installed early versions of every version of Windows since the early days—many, many times. Windows 8 is following the same pattern as all of the others. Too bad it seems more like Vista than Windows 3 or Windows 7.

If you don’t want to read the list of issues and just want my recommendation, here it is: Wait. Wait until SP1 comes out. By this time, the hardware and software companies that are still alive (they fall by the wayside faster than old runners in the Boston marathon) will have released updated Windows 8 drivers, application updates and patches so their stuff works. By that time Microsoft will have released Media Center and added a “What happened to my XXXX in Windows 7” help topic.

The Hardware

As a point of reference, my hardware platform is a i7 980x with 12GB of RAM, SSD drive and dual monitors being driven by a NVidia high-performance video card. The system profiles at 7.6 (it’s fast).

My references to the “unmetro” user interface address the copyright debacle caused by Microsoft’s inability to find a name that someone else isn’t using (again). Might I suggest “Google” before picking a name? I’ll just call it “UM” for reference sake.

Surprises and Disappointments

Here’s what I found (or didn’t find).

  • I have an MSDN license (thanks to the Microsoft MVP program) so I tried to access the site on August 15th—the first release date. Unfortunately, the site could not take the traffic and repeatedly crashed. The MSDN staff on the phone had no idea what was going on. Apparently, there were no Clouds in Redmond that day. I decided to get some lunch, and later in the day the site was working again. As I’ve said before, there’s nothing like success to bring a company (even as large as Microsoft) to its knees.
  • While I  waited, I did some research on the new versions. It looked like I wanted the “Enterprise” version. No, it’s not because I’m running a starship here, but it had some worthwhile features, and I hate it when you have invested months in an OS only to find that the feature you really need isn’t in that SKU.
  • I tried to upgrade my current Windows 7 Ultimate to Enterprise. Nope, no go. I hade to settle for the “Pro” version. Thankfully, this version was happy to overlay my existing Windows 7 system. And yes, I had done a full backup the previous day using Windows Backup. First mistake.
  • Once Win8 installed and settled down, I started getting lost in the new look and feel. The “unmetro” (UM) user interface (UI) was a big change. I discovered at once I had quick launch toolbars on both monitors. Not good. I use every bit of the second monitor for work. Icons and toolbars belong on the “primary” monitor. No work-around—minor irritation.
  • Discovering how to get the UM to work was helped by the (very brief) intro video. However, when clicking on the “Start” chicklet at the lower-left often triggered the application on the second row of the quick-launch toolbar. I’m not going to get started on the UI. I expect that I’ll get used to it in time. There are far more serious issues to discuss. And yes, I did discover a nice new Remote Desktop application. Intuitive, innovative and useful. But my gadgets were all gone—never to return. Not good.
  • I use this system for a variety of purposes. While my office apps still work, many of the others do not. These include my fingerprint reader, WinTV, Windows Media Center, my security camera apps, Camtasia Studio, SnagIt and Windows Backup. You can add about six gadgets to this list that I used heavily to give me real-time feedback on applications and OS performance. Strike 1. I use this system to record video from external cameras—none of which work with Windows 8.
  • Once the OS was installed, I immediately tried to get a “starting point” backup established. Unfortunately, there was no Windows Backup visible and no references to it in “Search”.  I did some research (on Google) and discovered it’s been replaced with new technology because “no one” was using Windows Backup. Isn’t that special. I’m someone, I use it. Silly me. I did find an old reference to “Windows 7 File Recovery”. And there it was. Dumb. So I didn’t want to overly my existing Win7 backup image so I told it to backup to a web server. After many (many) hours, (over a 1Ghz backbone to a dedicated file server), Windows 8 dropped the LAN. After repeated retries and resets, the only solution was to reboot and start over. Strike 2. I can’t have a system with an unstable LAN.
  • I also use “System Restore” to roll back the registry and other systems software when things go wrong as they invariably do in my work. There is no sign of this functionality. This is serious but I hope to work around it with other backup software.
  • I finally pulled the backup target drive and replaced it with a clean drive. I keep my backup drives on a USB3 drive carrier so they can be easily pulled for archival and emergencies. Unfortunately, the system would no longer boot without this drive in place. Strike 3. Saving critical boot information on external drives is unacceptable.
  • Throughout all of this I was constantly using Search to try to find out how to do stuff. Some of the time it helped by all too often it came up blank. “Gadgets” nothing. “Backup” nothing. Actually, that’s not true. “Backup” found an old copy of a Norton Ghost backup manual, but nothing from Microsoft. In frustration I typed “Help” and way down on the list was Microsoft’s help interface. Why isn’t Help and Support on the same top-level menu with Search? The problem we’re facing is the mountain of information, misinformation and rumor exposed by Bing and Google searches. Given the length of time Windows 8 has been in public beta, there is a landfill of articles out there—many of which are no longer applicable. This means that Microsoft needs to ensure that their system-resident help topics are the first point of information. And folks before you ship a product, expunge the “This stuff is preliminary” warnings. I was on the help team and it does not have to be this way.
  •  

    My Plans

    Because of these serious issues and the host of not-so-serious-issues that I’ve discovered just in the last 48 hours, I’m going to have to take the following steps:

    Restore my Windows 7 system if I can. If I can’t, I plan to do a clean install of Windows 7 on this system. It will take a week to do, but I can’t have an unreliable system that’s not ready for production. Sure, a year from now, I might try again. By then the video hardware and software companies will probably have sorted out their Windows 8 issues. Until then, I’ll be sticking with Windows 7. It’s too important to me. I expect it is for you too.

    Well, it’s official. Microsoft has abandoned another mainstream product with no replacement. When I installed the new IE9 I discovered that SharedView no longer worked. I quickly uninstalled IE9 and submitted a Connect bug and asked my MVP lead to check out what’s going on. He got back to me today with the grim news: “Microsoft SharedView is no longer supported by Microsoft.”

    image

    http://social.microsoft.com/Forums/en-US/sharedviewbetahelp/threads

    This is pretty sad. I leaves me and many other trainers and support professionals in the lurch. Now I have to find a suitable (non-Microsoft) replacement, test it and learn how to use it as well as update my course materials. I expect this is not nearly as expensive as the costs incurred by others that depend on SharedView on a daily basis.

    Why is SharedView important? Yes there are other programs that purport to do the same. The SharedView advantage is that it's a MICROSOFT desktop sharing solution. You don't have to convince a customer that this free program is going to do anything but do what it's supposed to do. It's very lightweight, installs in seconds, is virtually pain-free and is brutally simple for each end to use. We have lots of sites where remote desktop is not an option--especially in my webinar classes. Consider that SV lets me view the system while the customer demonstrates a problem. I can take over his mouse and keyboard but only if he lets me and all he needs to do to take control back is move the mouse or press a key. It gave the customers a lot more confidence in their own system's security.

    Wonder why the Microsoft stock is flat or falling while other companies continue to grow even in this economy? Now you know.

    I took on the job of creating a DVD of this year's choir concert. I used my Canon Vixia HF20 HD (1080i) camera to record the video and sound and frankly, it did a great job. Now came the hard part.

    Getting Connected

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    Another day lost. As many times as I’ve helped others get connected, nothing worked today as I tried to connect from one system in a Workgroup to a SQL Server on a local (trusted) domain. I tried everything imaginable including:

    • Checking to see it the server properties were set to permit remote connections. They were.
    • Was the SQL Browser service running? It was.
    • Did the SQL Server Configuration Manager say that the right protocols were enabled? Yes, they were.
    • I tried to Telnet to the IP address and port being used (based on SSCM). It worked locally but not over the network.
    • I stopped the Windows Firewall service as I was running Small Business Service and it thinks it knows best about configuring client firewalls (despite the fact that I have other firewall hardware). That made no difference.

    Nothing made any difference. I could not connect from other domain-based systems either. The rest of the story? Well, I remembered having installed Windows 7 on top of an existing Windows Vista system. I had assumed that it had joined the SBS domain correctly (I ran “Connect” which was supposed to do that). Apparently it didn’t. When I dropped the offending system from the domain, went into SBS, dropped the system there, and rejoined the domain it worked fine. Everyone could see the SQL Server. That only took 6 hours of fiddling to figure out. I’m hesitant to run connect again…

    Sigh. How does anyone get any work done if all we do is frutz with systems?

    Bill

    After updating a working Vista system to Windows 7 several things happened that made what seemed like an easy transition to Windows 7 from Vista less than productive. I detail these issues to help you avoid the same issues. Yes, Windows 7 is worth the pain. It’s noticeably faster at every step, the UI is different but I get it. It’s more secure, but that’s a PIA sometimes—and that’s not a Primary Interop Assembly.

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