Category Archives: 12030

Time to move on from Windows XP

Just a reminder that we’re now inside 500 days until the end of support for Windows XP. I’m sure I don’t need to go into the reasons why your organisation doesn’t want to be running an OS that Microsoft doesn’t support anymore. If you aren’t ready to jump to Windows 8, then Windows 7 is a perfectly good step up from XP.


Whatever you decide to upgrade to, just make sure you do it before 8th April 2014.

NEBytes February Event: Direct Access and Dynamic Consumption in C#

After over 80 attendees enjoyed the North East Bytes launch event in January, we’ve got another great event lined up for this month.


Direct Access has been the most requested session topic recently, so I’m very pleased to have two presenters to cover it at this meeting. We’re glad to welcome Dr Dan Oliver (Managing Director of Sa-V Ltd a Newcastle based Infrastructure Optimization Microsoft Partner) back to speak, and coincidentally the day after I’d confirmed Dr Dan, Conrad Sidey from Microsoft also offered to do the session. I’m happy to say that they’re going to collaborate to present Direct Access together.


From speaking to people in the IT pro community, I don’t think that people are as excited about Direct Access as they will be when they realise what it gives them…


While an IT pro may sell Direct Access to the management as a “better VPN”, where drives can be automatically mapped at logon and all the good stuff that the user gets from logon scripts that connect to resources on the LAN, users are pretty much used to “getting by” with the VPN they’re already using. Where the story is really improved by Direct Access is that laptops hooking up to various connections around the world now stay under the scope of management, the same as any other domain computer that’s wired to the LAN. I’m sure I don’t need to go into detail about all the benefits of that!


There are a lot of people who appear to be scared of the requirement for IPv6, and in fairness if you don’t currently have any IPv6, that isn’t an insignificant barrier to entry, however you don’t need your whole network to be IPv6 enabled in order to use Direct Access.


And for developers, Oliver Sturm is an experienced presenter who really knows his stuff, so his session on Dynamic Consumption in C# 4.0 should be a good one.


It should be a really good event, so grab your ticket:


Time to move on from the Windows 7 Release Candidate

If you are still running Windows 7 RC (I’m sure a lot of people are because it was pretty darned stable), the time to move on is fast approaching.


From 15th February, warning messages will start, saying that from 1st March Windows 7 RC will shutdown every 2 hours. You really want to be off the RC by then because you will lose any unsaved work.


If you continue to use the RC through the bi-hourly shutdowns, on 1st June 2010 the RC will cease to meet “genuine” Windows criteria and will not be able to download anything that checks whether the copy of Windows is genuine. You’ll also lose your wallpaper, but by that point that’s the least of your worries! ;-)


I’ve still got one machine running the RC – that will change this weekend!

Running Windows 7’s Problem Steps Recorder from the Command Line

Last month we had a VBUG Newcastle meeting for IT Pros with two great presentations (it would’ve been three but we’ve had to re-schedule one – more news on that when I have it). The first presentation was from Microsoft Premier Field Engineer, Richard Diver, called Implementing the “Black Box” – Performance Monitoring and Analysis for proactive and reactive support, server baselining and capacity planning and covered a number of tools…


If you haven’t been using them, you should take a look into:


  • The Windows Sysinternals tools, which can be run without downloading, via Sysinternals Live by mapping a drive direct to \\live.sysinternals.com\tools\
  • IT Pros should especially look to Process Explorer to give a more comprehensive view of what’s happening on a system. You can even replace Windows Task Manager permenantly with it.
  • Many people who have opted to stay with XP until perhaps an upgrade to Windows 7 may not have seen the newer features of Performance Monitor (perfmon) and the Reliability Monitor (which was introduced in Vista and Server 2008).
  • Windows 7’s fabulous Problem Steps Recorder, which allows users to easily record screenshots of the issues that they’re having to send to the support teams (or to let you see exactly what the relative that always calls you up for tech support is doing wrong!).

…and some of the other useful links that Alex put in the TechNet UK Newsletter, after she and Sarah joined us on the night.


One of the questions that came out of the audience, regarding Problem Steps Recorder, was “can you run it from the command line?” At the time I think there were a few chuckles as people thought about how it might be used as a tool for spying, but after a while I started to think about the possibilities of automating around PSR…


Out of the box, if you want to use Problem Steps Recorder, you have to tell a user (let’s imagine they’re on the phone) to open the Start menu and type “psr” or “psr.exe” or some part of “Record steps to reproduce a problem”, which is how it is officially surfaced in Windows 7. You then have to tell them to start recording, go through the steps that are causing them the problem, stop recording, name and save the PSR output file somewhere and perhaps email it to you.


I thought, what if I could have them launch something that would automatically decide on a file name (based on the username, machine name and time), start recording and pop up a cut down UI that just had a button that would stop recording and save the file to a network share, or potentially email it straight to me. I know that’s not really saving a lot of steps, and they aren’t especially complicated steps anyway, but I’m a great believer in technology being as invisible as possible, so if something can be tailored to suit a particular environment, to make life a little bit easier for specific users, then I think it’s worth doing.


It turns out that there are command line parameters for Problem Steps Recorder, but they aren’t all that easy to find. Once I’ve written my script I’ll post it here, but in the meantime, here’s the help for psr.exe:


psr.exe [/start |/stop][/output <fullfilepath>] [/sc (0|1)] [/maxsc <value>]
    [/sketch (0|1)] [/slides (0|1)] [/gui (o|1)]
    [/arcetl (0|1)] [/arcxml (0|1)] [/arcmht (0|1)]
    [/stopevent <eventname>] [/maxlogsize <value>] [/recordpid <pid>]

/start            :Start Recording. (Outputpath flag SHOULD be specified)
/stop            :Stop Recording.
/sc            :Capture screenshots for recorded steps.
/maxsc            :Maximum number of recent screen captures.
/maxlogsize        :Maximum log file size (in MB) before wrapping occurs.
/gui            :Display control GUI.
/arcetl            :Include raw ETW file in archive output.
/arcxml            :Include MHT file in archive output.
/recordpid        :Record all actions associated with given PID.
/sketch            :Sketch UI if no screenshot was saved.
/slides            :Create slide show HTML pages.
/output            :Store output of record session in given path.
/stopevent        :Event to signal after output files are generated.

PSR Usage Examples:

psr.exe
psr.exe /start /output fullfilepath.zip /sc1 /gui 0 /record <PID>
    /stopevent <eventname> /arcetl 1

psr.exe /start /output fullfilepath.xml /gui 0 /recordpid <PID>
    /stopevent <eventname>

psr.exe /start /output fullfilepath.xml /gui 0 /sc 1 /maxsc <number>
    /maxlogsize <value> /stopevent <eventname>

psr.exe /stop

Notes:
1.    Output path should include a directory path (e.g. ‘.\file.xml’).
2.    Output file can either be a ZIP file or XML file
3.    Can’t specify /arcxml /arcetl /arcmht /sc etc. if output is not a ZIP file.


I’m pleased to say that Richard enjoyed presenting to the group as much as we enjoyed his presentation, so he’s coming back to do another session on 25th November on Advanced Troubleshooting with Sysinternals Tools. I’ll post more details shortly.

Great Windows 7 offer for UK students

From October 1st, students in the UK (with a .ac.uk email address) will be able to get a copy of Windows 7 for just £30!



This will be a limited time offer and you must already have a copy of XP or Vista on your PC. It’s the best pricing that I’ve seen for Windows 7, so if you’re eligible you don’t want to miss out.


Full details will be available from October 1st at http://www.microsoft.com/uk/windows/studentoffer/default.aspx

23rd September, Newcastle: Three fantastic Microsoft enterprise IT presentations

We are very pleased to be able to announce a stellar line up of technical presentations and speakers from Microsoft at the September VBUG Newcastle IT Pro meeting…


The Dynamic Desktop Experience – Windows 7, Windows XP Mode, App-V, MDT, MDOP and System Center (Dan Oliver)


Windows 7 offers Microsoft’s customers with an opportunity to deliver a platform that releases new capabilities that deliver real business benefit and significantly reduced cost of ownership. The challenge for most companies is that deploying and migrating desktops is time consuming and traditionally offers service continuity risks with Application Compatibility that can prevent progress. This presentation will show capabilities, architectures and strategies that allow companies to move forward cost effectively to the benefits of a modern operating system. Level: 100


Dan Oliver is a Pre Sales Architect within Microsoft UK’s Speciality Technology Unit with some 14 years’ experience of Microsoft-based solutions primarily in the virtualization and systems management fields. Dan has a background that covers a broad spectrum of industry sectors ranging from Financial, Telecoms, Partners, Legal, Professional Services and Healthcare. Dan has also had the opportunity to work as a Chief Technology Officer for the Faculty of Advocates in the Scottish Legal Sector.


Novell and Lotus Notes – Migrating to Microsoft (Conrad Sidey)


The business value of implementing Microsoft technologies like Active Directory, Exchange 2007 and SharePoint are clearly understood within Microsoft. For our customers that are still running their organisation on technologies like Novell and Lotus Notes they are starting to gain an understanding of the value of migrating to Microsoft technologies. The purpose behind this presentation is to provide the technical community with an insight into leading a project and architecting a solution to migrate environment that are running both Novell Netware and Lotus Notes. The presentation will discuss envisioning & planning of a Novell and Notes migration project, approaches to undertaking the migration depending upon the business drivers, providing an overview of the approach we are taking in migrating a UK Local City Council while providing coexistence, as well as presenting a number of migration & coexistence recommendations or lessons learnt from the project. Level: 200


Conrad Sidey is a Solution Architect within Microsoft Consulting Services with some 17 years’ experience of Microsoft-based solutions primarily in the infrastructure field. Conrad has a background that covers a broad spectrum of industry sectors ranging from Financial and Insurance, Manufacturing, Aero-Engineering, Defence, UK and European Government Agencies, Power Generators, Retail and Brewing. Conrad has also had the opportunity to work with large scale outsourcing services providers.


Implementing the “Black Box” – Performance Monitoring and Analysis for proactive and reactive support, server baselining and capacity planning (Richard Diver)


All current versions of Windows come with a free tool that can prevent server downtime and solve many mysteries – Perfmon!


A little bit of practice with this tool can really help to solve issues with servers that may not even be performance related. Working at the OS level, you can find cause to most performance bottlenecks regardless of server function (Exchange, DC, Web etc).


This is something that has even more focus in future versions of Windows; a brief overview of these benefits will be shown also! Level: 300


Richard Diver is a Premier Field Engineer with 10 years experience implementing and supporting a range of Microsoft technologies, specialising in Active Directory, Server Platform and Virtualisation.


Wrap up Q&A with all presenters at the end.


Location: Room 118, Claremont Tower, Newcastle University, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, NE1 7RU, GB


Time: 18:45


Price: FREE


Please register for your place at the VBUG site so we can make sure we have enough space and refreshments. :-)

Windows 7 E

[UPDATE] Microsoft is scrapping the E editions of Windows 7. See this post for details.


Now I’m sure you’ve heard this news before reading this, but in case you haven’t prepare to be shocked and bemused…


Following on from various wrangling and threats of fines after a complaint to the European Union from browser maker Opera about Microsoft’s bundling of Internet Explorer with Windows being anti-competitive, Microsoft has stated that it will release special E editions of the different Windows 7 versions in Europe. Windows 7 E editions will not contain a web browser, and unlike the old N (which didn’t contain Windows Media Player, to try to please the EU, and which nobody bought), there’s no option this time – if you’re in Europe, you get the E edition and you can’t purchase a version of Windows 7 that contains IE.


Funnily enough Opera isn’t pleased about this, presumably because they have to now provide a distribution mechanism for people to get their browser onto a PC that doesn’t have a browser already with which to download it, and increasingly may not have an optical disk drive. Opera would like Windows 7 to include a “ballot screen” which would provide a selection of browsers that the user could choose from. It doesn’t take a genius to see why Microsoft would be reluctant to do that since however they ordered the options, someone would be bound to complain (and by “complain”, I mean “probably take legal action”).


It’s not all bad though. The majority of consumers who use Windows get it with a new PC, and the OEMs who manufacture those PCs aren’t going to send one out to retail without a web browser. They’ll undoubtedly do deals with one browser company or another to bundle their offering as they do with anti-virus and other software. The vast numbers of Windows users in a corporate environment don’t need to worry either since their IT department will sort them out. The only people who are really affected by this are the small percentage who buy a boxed (or downloaded) copy of Windows 7 to upgrade an existing computer. It’s a small percentage of people who buy Windows this way simply because the numbers of corporate users and PC buyers are so large, but I expect that the number will be larger with Windows 7 simply because it’s so much better suited to running on existing hardware than Windows Vista was – I’m running it quite happily on my netbook and I also put the release candidate on my mother’s creaking “built for XP” laptop with 512Mb RAM; it works fine!


I said this affects people who are buying a copy to upgrade, but the other caveat to this is that because there were no Windows Vista or XP E editions, Microsoft isn’t providing Windows 7 E upgrade versions as they have done previously. They are providing the full version of Windows 7 E, in the UK, for roughly the equivalent of the upgrade pricing they’re using outside the EU if you pre-order from selected suppliers between now and the 9th August.


So, if you’re moving your old PC to Windows 7 E, not only will you not have a browser, but you’re going to have to do a clean install too. Microsoft have put up a web page which takes you through the steps you can take to make the transition as painless as possible. Obviously it tells you how to get to running Windows 7 E with IE8, but if you already use a different web browser I’m sure you can work out how to switch it in at that point.


Of course it’s not only people using Windows in Europe who are impacted by the release of the E editions. Software developers worldwide, who may have used the fact that IE was present in every version of Windows in their applications, will have to look at ways around it being missing, or another browser being in its place. There is some excellent advice for developers on the Windows blog about this. I’d recommend that Windows sys admins check that out too, since it’ll help them in testing software before rolling it out across their Windows infrastructure.


Some further reading regarding Windows 7:
…for IT Pros: Talking About Windows and IT Pro at Home
…for people building hardware or developing software: Ready. Set. 7.


NB. If you’re yet to try out the Windows 7 Release Candidate, don’t wait too long – the download page says it’s only available until the 20th August. Windows 7 will be available to volume license customers on the 1st September, and on general release from 22nd October.