MDM & GP Tips Blog

Jun 2017
22

The Untold tale of Mark Minasi and Jeremy Moskowitz: A personal tale of me and my mentor (who is now retiring.)

If you don’t know who Mark Minasi is, then you don’t know Windows.

Before I knew Mark personally, I would regularly encounter his books when I went from business to business during my old NT 3.5, 4.0 then Active Directory Consulting days.

Then I read his articles in Windows NT magazine, which later had different names, and transformed into Windows IT Pro. Most memorable was “This Old Resource Kit”, which was often in the back of the magazine, and the article I always flipped to first.

I first met Mark when I was doing some occasional writing for Windows NT Magazine and got my first “professional shot” to speak at a big time IT Pro conference. Mark and I were scheduled to speak back-to-back; Mark first, me second. Nothing to worry about there !

But there was a problem ! Not only was I going on directly after the best selling author and world class speaker Mark Minasi… but more importantly, our material overlapped a little bit. I wanted to coordinate material so the audience wouldn’t throw things at me.

So without knowing him really, at all, I found his business phone number, talked with his assistant, and she said Mark would call me back later that day.

And he did !

I think my brain froze up during that phone call. Here was this bestselling author talking to this totally unknown “Kid” (which by the way he would later call me “Kid” for YEARS.. really, literally, years.) From what I remember, we talked about our material decided some overlap was totally a-ok, and that was that. I can’t remember if the call was 15 minutes long or 2 hours long but I know he took the time he needed with me.

Months later at the big IT Conference, where I was scheduled to speak for my very first time… there he was. On stage. In. Front. Of. All. Those. People.

And I was next.

And if you don’t know Mark, his delivery is amazing, flawless, personal, engaging, technical, and relevant.

He was everything I wanted to grow up to be.

I was completely floored.

And then.. when his talk was over. It was my turn. On stage. In. Front. Of. All. Those. People.

And Mark. In the front row.

With. All. Those. People.

And I did.. fine. Not “Mark quality awesome.” But.. perfectly fine. In fact, for my first time out in the big leagues, pretty well.

After the talk, Mark took me aside and we had a little chat. He gave me a few tips, notes and pointers which was amazing to get from the Master.

He knew about my couple of articles in Windows NT Magazine and asked if I wanted to write a book in his new “series” of “Mark Minasi Presents” books. And after we talked for a little bit, we landed on the right topic: Group Policy, Profiles and IntelliMirror.

The three things I knew best. (Tip, if you want to see the original cover, check out this link on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Profiles-IntelliMirror-Windows-Administrator-Library/dp/0782144470 )

I wrote the book, it became a bestseller, and it launched me into GPanswers.com, my training classes, then later to found PolicyPak Software.

In other words, because Mark believed in me, he helped me become the person I wanted to become and get to help thousands and thousands of administrators just like you.

Mark would go on to become a very close personal friend, offering guidance from business to personal matters, and has been a terrific sounding board, and was I honored to have Mark at my wedding.

In short: Mark was my personal mentor, and I couldn’t have been “Jeremy” without Mark helping me along the way.

I’ve seen Mark speak now, live, more than I can remember. I can remember attending his multi-day seminars at least three times, maybe it was four. And then seeing him speak at little, medium, and big events: Mark is a professional machine at speaking, entertaining and making sure the material sticks.

I will continue to be talking at events, small, medium and large, and hope to take a piece of Mark with me on stage whenever I do.

Thank you Mark for helping thousands of IT admins be just plain better at their jobs. No one will ever be a better “explainer” than you. You’re the highest standard I know.

And thanks for taking a personal touch with me and help transform me from Kid to, well, whatever I am now. J

PS: That all being said, if you KNOW Mark really well, and want to go in the wayback machine to a time even before I knew him, check out these crazy videos:

–   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wq-OPbKSvGg

–   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UhM2amh5vI0

–   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZsWM7ebIqag

PPS: Mark is still tweeting at @mminasi so, do be sure to follow him !

Nov 2016
25

How to Buy a laptop as a Regular Person (2016-2017 edition)

This is a yearly re-post / re-edit. It started in 2009 and has been updated yearly. This started out as a post to “just my closest friends” but has become one of my popular blog entries of all time. Here’s my fully updated guide to end-of-year 2016 into 2017.

If you’re an IT geek like me, you’re often asked “What kind of laptop should I buy?”

If you’’re NOT an IT geek, you’’re likely asking an IT geek friend “What kind of laptop should I buy?”

This is a guide for both of you.

If you’’re in IT, this question might not directly affect you, since many IT organizations dole out laptops to the whole staff, including you. However, since you’re seen walking around with a laptop, or have that geeky-vibe about you, I’m guessing you’ve been asked more than once “What kind of laptop should I buy?”

You might be tempted to say “Buy a Macbook” – if only for the reason that you DON’T have a Macbook, and therefore would be unable to help the person in the future. (See this for the example of the problem: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/computers) That being said, Macbooks are pretty awesome, and if you want to real work on a Macbook, you can do that. That’s just not the point of this article. This is about how to buy a Windows PC laptop. Macs are great, if you want to go there.

If you’’re NOT in IT, your problems are substantial too. If you ask three geeks, you might get THREE answers.

With that in mind, here’s “Jeremy’s Guide to Buying a new PC-based Laptop in 2016-2017.” Again, there are a LOT of ways someone COULD do this task. This is what I send to people in my inner circle (friends, family, etc.) when I get the question.

Seriously. I just email them a link to this blog entry, and .. I’’m done.

These suggestions should be “good enough” for the common man / woman / student for the foreseeable near term future. Any one person’s particular needs may vary, but you, the IT Pro, should be able to “print out and hand over” these suggestions and have them work for about 90+% of the people you come in contact with.

If you’’re NOT an IT geek, you’’re looking at the Internet and catalogs and think that desktop and laptops could be “infinitely configured.”

And you don’t have time for that. You want to get back to real work. So, here is a document you can send to anyone who has ever asked that question with some “straight dope answers.”

Yes: This document is long. But, you want to make a GOOD decision which will last you the next 2-4 years, right? So, just read it. Really READ it. Then go shopping.

Jeremy’s Guide to Buying a new PC-based Laptop in 2016

We’re going to answer some questions here like:

  • Laptop or Ultrabook ?
  • Laptop or iPad or Surface (Windows Tablet)?
  • Should I get a $200 Windows laptop?
  • What is / should I get a Microsoft Surface?
  • What’s the deal with Android Tablets and Google Chromebook Laptops?
  • iPad Pro? Will that work for me?
  • Where can I get good deals?
  • What kind of hardware (and warranty) should I get?
  • Should I get Windows 10 or get Windows 7?
  • Should I get 32-bit or 64-bit?

Part I: Laptop, Ultrabook or Netbook ?

To make sure we all understand the marketing vocabulary you’re likely to encounter as you go to buy a machine:

  • Laptops: You know what a laptop is.
  • Ultrabook: Just like a laptop, but thinner and lighter.

For most people, they want Laptops. They’re mid priced, mid weight and have a full sized keyboard.

If you pay a little more, you can get an Ultrabook, which is just like a laptop — except lighter.

I think there are a ton of great options out there where you don’t have buy a HEAVY laptop, or buy an EXPENSIVE Ultrabook.

Said another way, you can get a great laptop, which approaches the weight of an Ultrabook, at a “Laptop cost.”

Part II:  Non-Windows tablets (iPad, Android, Chromebooks)

Before we talk about ACTUAL laptops, let’s take a quick turn and chat about your “second” device.

In fact, you might be thinking “Maybe I don’t need a laptop at all, and instead, I’ll just get an iPad, iPad Pro, or Chromebook.” And, what’s the deal with “Microsoft Surface?”

In short, nothing beats a laptop for ACTUAL WORK.

The iPad can be FORCED into a device that can help kinda-sorta help you do better at making ACTUAL WORK.

There’s the iPad, iPad Mini and now the “jumbo” iPad Pro which.. is just a REALLY BIG iPad and pen with some specialty apps to help you try to do ACTUAL WORK.

But honestly, I’ve tried a lot of stuff, and NOTHING BEATS A LAPTOP for ACTUAL WORK.

For me, I tend to use my iPad Mini when on the airplane and on the road, watching movies and quick dash emails.

The bonus of a laptop over an iPad is… its just better at creating and editing documents. Yes, you CAN create documents”, “deliver slideshows”, or “make a spreadsheet on an iPad. For me, when it comes to creating content, even simple emails… I need a keyboard. Yes, yes, you can get Bluetooth keyboards that sync with the iPad (and I have one), but still – the content creation software and experience isn’’t the same as a Netbook, laptop or desktop.

So, here’s the verdict if you want a “Not Full Windows Machine”:

  • If I had “real work” to do, and had to only pick one “travel” machine for the next 5 years – sorry iPad, I’’d have to go laptop.
  • •If I’’m sitting on a beach and want to read, game, surf or NetFlix.. I use my iPad.

How about Android Tablets? Are those good choices?

Possibly. So, I’’m (personally) not a huge fan of the current Android world. But I actually believe it’s a very personal choice / taste.

But, I actually recognize I’’m in the minority.

That is, apparently more portable devices run Android than anything else out there. But I don’’t own one, so I can’’t personally recommend it.

If you’ve got a friend with one, ask to play around on it. But even if I –loved it, I’’m not sure I’d want it as my only content-creation machine.

What’s the deal with the “Google Chromebook Laptop”?

Whew. This is a tough one. So, non-IT folks… stick with me here.

Every year I get a lot of comments telling me that I don’t give Google Chromebooks enough “discussion.”

Fine. Okay.. Here’s the Wall Street Journal article entitled “You can ditch your PC now” which demonstrates for some people its possible to use a Chromebook for many (most) tasks.

Google has a “full size laptop” running a thing called the “Chrome OS.”

Here’s the deal: It has no hard drive, and ALMOST everything you do is “in the cloud.” Meaning, really, that when you “save stuff” you’’re saving to a website which stores your stuff for later access.

  • Does it run Windows applications? No.
  • Does it run Mac applications? No.
  • Does it run iPad apps? No.
  • Does it run Android apps? No.
  • Might you want one anyway? Possibly.

There are SOME things that can be downloaded then used offline without Internet access, but not too much.

Where are these devices GREAT? In school (K-12) environments. They run Google apps and all the Google-y stuff you already use.

So teachers just give ‘em to students and if they break? O well. There’s nothing stored on them anyway. Since the Internet is always on (usually) in the school, it makes a lot of sense there.

For me, though, it’s not how I want to work. But some people can and do use a Google Chromebook is their “daily driver” for all things. But not me personally. I have several friends who love them and give them to their parents as their “daily driver” for all things.

Okay: Back to laptops and Netbooks.

Part III: Which laptop brand should I get?

Read this part first, before we get to the “Should I try really hard to get Windows 7 on my laptop” section. We’ll answer that in a minute.

Okay: Here’s the thing about all laptops. All of them: basically, they’re all the same.

Shocker, I know. But so are cars. They are all basically, almost exactly, 99% the same. Some of the “differences” might be:

  • Extra ports or USB 3.0 vs. USB 2.0.
  • One or two “video chips” (don’t get me started).
  • Keyboard twists / converts to make it a tablet.
  • Keyboard snaps off to make it a tablet.
  • Keyboard doesn’t exist at all (so it *IS* a tablet) and you ADD a keyboard.
  • Some are a little faster or a little slower.
  • Some are heavier. Others are lighter.
  • Some have BIG power supplies (which add to the overall weight of travel). Others have small wee ones.
  • Some are “bigger” and have a full sized keyboard. Others are smaller (Netbooks.)
  • Some laptops have touch screens, some do not.

But… again –99% of all laptops running Windows are EXACTLY the same “guts” and what they’’re capable of.

Since they all do the same basic thing, for the MAJORITY of “Joe and Jane users” you almost CANNOT GO WRONG in buying a new laptop nowadays.

This is going to sound totally weird, but my primary suggestion to prospective buyers of laptops and desktops is: UNDERSTAND THE WARRANTY.

We’ll cover this in the next part of this talk.

Of course, you’re also looking for a good deal. So, here are my top five deals for anyone looking for a computer:

1. New Dell Inspiron laptops. They’re cheap, decent, fast, and have Dell’s warranty (again, more on this in a second.) Click here to see them. I wouldn’t recommend _all_ of them. Some of them have the “wrong” processor type. (again, more on this in a second.) And this year, I’m recommending ONLY disks without moving parts (SSD) .. again, more on this in a bit.

2. Dell Factory Outlet  This is Dell’s “island of lost toys.” This usually mans “Jane Doe couldn’t afford her new laptop for her son Johnny Doe after all, so she sent it back after 9 days of light use.” It doesn’t really mean “It was dropped, so it’s now crap.”  Even if it did, Dell still puts an original warranty on everything they sell there, which is the most important part of owning a laptop. I’ve literally bought 4 Dell laptops using the Outlet store.

3. Tigerdirect.com and NewEgg. They do sell new computers, but also “fell off the truck, if ya know what I mean”, off-lease (meaning, used) or are market closeouts in some way. But, holymoly.. lots and lots of awesome deals here. I promise you won’t find better deals than Tigerdirect. You will get the MOST bang for your buck, especially if you’re looking for something “higher end” at “lower cost.” But here’s the trick: Tigerdirect doesn’t warranty these. They’re always factory direct warranties… whatever that means. And since they sell all brands, I don’t know what to tell you – even if you find a great deal. You’ll have to manually inspect the warranty yourself, call the company and see what their story is. Don’t expect Tigerdirect to help you when you have a problem. They sell it to you. They mail it to you. That’s the extent of your relationship.

4. Retail: Best Buy, hhGregg, Office Max, Office Depot, Staples: Even if they swore “up and down” that they had the most amazing warranty of all time, PLUS a killer deal – I still wouldn’’t buy the computer and warranty from any of them. Plain and simple: There are KIDS working in these stores, and this is YOUR business / personal laptop. Sorry, but I can’’t trust any of these outfits with my most precious business instrument. Not to mention that these kinds of stores turn over equipment types and makes and models so, so quickly. Will the “kid behind the desk” know what to do when you bring yours in from 1.5 years ago?

5. Other Internet sites: NewEgg.com, Buy.Com, Woot.com and others. Again –almost always ONLY manufacturer’s warranty or some kind of 30-90 day only warranty. Again, not my cup of tea.

Part IV: Understanding the warranty (the most important part of your laptop.)

Let’s talk about Dell, specifically, for a second though. Why have I, historically, always owned a Dell laptop?

Simple. Their warranty is easy for my pea-brain to understand.

Here’s how it works:

  • •The default warranty is 1 year if something “dies.” Examples are: Power supply, screen goes blank, USB port dies, whatever. You call up. They try to fix it over the phone.
  • If it needs a part you can replace (ie: battery, mouse, removable DVD drive) they ship it to you; you replace it yourself. You put the broken part in a pre-paid box back to them, and drop it in the mail. You are done.
  • If it needs a part you can’t replace (laptop screen, motherboard) the part is shipped “overnight” to a “regional center.” Then when the part arrives, the center calls you and you schedule a time to get your machine fixed.
  • For a little extra money when you buy your laptop, you can get 3 years on-site (ie: they come to you) coverage.
  • For a little “extra extra”, you can get “I spilled coffee directly in it”, “I dropped it hard on a marble floor” or “I dropped it in a lake” insurance, which will cover things like that. Really. At least that’s what they say.

Now.. with that said: I, with my pea-brain, can understand this warranty structure, and can embrace what it means.

To be clear: This warranty structure doesn’t mean “my problem will be fixed in 24 hours.” (Especially on a Thursday or Friday.)

It means: “We (Dell) spring to action right away… If you called us with your problem after 2.00 PM or so, then we’re going to miss Mr. DHL delivery dude for today. So, we’ll have to ship it tomorrow –then it will (usually) get to the local repair depot the next business (shipping) day. And when it arrives, then you’ll get a call. Only after the part arrives at the local depot center, will we call you and schedule an appointment for up to 24 hours after that.”

That’s the deal.

So don’t expect your warranty coverage to mean “your problem will be fixed within 24 hours.” Expect them to get started on your problem right away and have it fixed 24 hours AFTER the part is in the hands of the depot.

So, because I ‘get’ the deal, I usually recommend Dell. It’s the “warranty-devil” I know, and I’m totally cool with that deal.

That said, I always recommend Dells to Joes and Janes when they ask me what laptop to get because:

  • 99% of the any laptop you get is exactly the same and…
  • I can EXPLAIN the warranty to them and ..
  • They can decide if that’s what they want.

I cannot OVER-EMPHASIZE how important UNDERSTANDING your laptop’s warranty and restrictions are. This is literally, the #1 factor you should choose in buying a laptop.

Again: I’ve described Dell’s warranty service above. If you want to check out other manufacturer’s warranties, great. I’m just giving you my personal experience with Dell and warranties.

Part V: “How much laptop do I, a regular person, need?”

If you’’re planning on: Surfing, Facebook, using Microsoft Office, Google Docs, Gmail, Hotmail, Office 365, NetFlix, Skype and other “usual stuff” you’’ve got “what I call “modest needs.””

If you’’re running some “high powered stuff ” like Quark, World Of Warcraft (or other high end games), Final Cut, Movie Maker, VMware Workstation, HyperV, Autocad, Camtasia Studio or Mathemetica, you might need more than what I’’ve listed here.

Now, before we get into this, there’s a handful of.. holycow.. NEW $200 full Windows laptops out there. (Here’s a Wall Street Journal Entry on them.) But … they FAIL the “sniff test.” Read the article, then also read my discussion on Chip Type.. right here.

So, here’s my answer for your “modest needs” person.

Chip type and speed:

Here’s the dirty little secret the laptop manufactures don’’t want you to know: This almost “doesn’t matter.” Or said another way, you almost “cannot go wrong.” Here are my suggestions:

•Intel’s chip lines are the Intel Core i3, i5 and i7s. The i3 is usually the best “bang for the buck” but I wouldn’’t turn down the higher model i5s or i7s. Again, i3 (any speed) will be perfectly fine for almost anyone. Get the i5s if you can afford it. The i7s are almost certainly overkill for almost everyone.

Avoid “Intel Celerons” at all costs. None are acceptable. Ever. This is why you don’t want to buy the $200 HP Stream 11 laptop .

• See the above line: NEVER EVER buy a laptop with an Intel Celeron. EVER.

I would also avoid anything with Intel ATOM. They’ll run all Windows apps. But slower. The PLUS side is that battery life is greater on these, but definitely slower than the Intel “i” series I mentioned above.

Also:  Avoid all “gamer” laptops. Avoid due to the high price tag and low battery life and large power supply to lug around.

RAM:

•The new modern standard is 8GB. You could get away with 4GB likely just fine. But if if you had an extra $40, get 8GB over 4GB.

•Note that I am NOT recommending you get more than 8GB for most modest-needs users. If you happen to get MORE than 8GB of RAM, bully for you, but you likely will never really need or use it.

Hard drive:

There are three kinds of hard drives now: “spinning disks” (the kind we’’ve had for years) and “SSD” disks which have no moving parts at all and “hybrids” which are spinning disks with some extra SSD stuff slapped on.

The older spinning disks are still found in 50% of all laptops.

I would avoid spinning disks at all costs now, and opt only for the SSD (which has no moving parts.) The “catch” however is that SSD disks are more expensive than older spinning disks (for the same amount of space.)

Manufacturers used to only have small SSDs for some reason; now they’re finally getting their acts together and you can go pretty big.

In short getting an SSD vs. spinning disks is going to be the greatest “one thing” you can do to make your laptop (even your old, crappy 3 year old laptop) feel insanely fast. More on SSD disks a little later.

Video card / chip:

Unless you’re playing games, it doesn’t matter.

•Really.

•Even if you’re planning on watching NetFlix or Hulu, those kinds of apps really don’t care about your video card much.

Even on my super old crappy 6 year old Netbook, I am able to see full screen videos (wirelessly!) without any issue with a good network connection.

Avoid laptops which tout “multiple” or “two” video chips. These give you extra headaches for almost NO VALUE to the mere mortal.

Screen Size / Resolution & Touch:

•Look for something with WXGA or WXGA+ resolution. This can mean 1280×720 and up, which is decent on a laptop.

Some laptops don’t have touch screens. You might as well get a touch-enabled laptop, since things do appear to be getting “touch-ier.” That being said, as I write this year’s revised article, the two laptops I own; neither has a touch screen.

Wireless Network Card:

•Most laptops now have built-in Wireless cards.

You don’t have to get all worried if you don’t have the fastest wireless card.

Ideally, look for one that has “n” in the spec, like 802.11n to get the fastest. Note that 802.11n isn’t actually the fastest thing out there. It’s actually 802.11AC but I think only a handful of laptop manufacturers put 802.11AC chips built into their notebooks (Asus being one of them).

Part VI: Windows 7 vs. 10 

So, let me start out by saying it’s really, really hard to get a new laptop WITHOUT Windows 10 on it.

There really isn’t any compelling reason to get Windows 7 anymore anyway. Windows 10 is the “last” version of Windows, but it will constantly upgraded and updated with new features every few months.

In short, you pretty much have to get it.. so just get it… UNLESS your business or school or something requires you to have Windows 7 and NOT Windows 10.

But that being said, you will find at least Dell and some other manufacturers still putting Windows 7 onto new machines as an option (click here for a list of SOME Dell machines with Windows 7 as an option.)

So, you CAN get Windows 7 in lieu of Windows 10 if you wanted, but I wouldn’t.

My advice for “normal people” would be to spring for a machine with one of the following operating systems:

  • •Windows 10 Home Premium: If you’re never going to join an IT department’s domain.
  • Windows 10 Pro: If you’re possibly going to join an IT department’s domain.

Note: My geeky friends will notice neither Windows 10 Enterprise doesn’t appear on this list, because they are NOT sold with NEW machines are only available to IT departments.

This chart is excellent to see what you get in which edition (left most columns): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windows_10_editions 

Note also that some new laptops might come with Windows 7 or Windows 8 or 8.1 pre-loaded. It depends on the manufacturer if you get “Windows 10 Ugprade rights.”

Part VII: 32 bit vs 64 bit.

Most new machines you will get are 64-bit capable. 64-bit capable means you get two major benefits.

Since most machines (laptops, not netbooks) you will buy nowadays are 64-bit capable, if you had an extra minute before clicking “buy now” I would check to ensure your new machine it’s 64-bit compatible and Windows 10 64-bit is pre-loaded.

Okay  — why would you care?

  • Benefit #1: With 64-bit you can tap into all 4GB+ of memory you purchase. If you were to use the older 32-bit OS you will only see 3.2GB of your 4GB purchase. Weird, but that’s how it works.
  • Benefit #2: By and large, the computer will be “faster” than the exact same machine running a 32-bit operating system. Even though we’re talking about identical systems, the 64-bit is faster all around because it processes (many / most) things in 64-bit “chunks” as opposed to 32-bit “chunks.” So it’s overall, faster.

So, in short, if you CAN get a 64-bit Windows 10 edition pre-loaded on your machine, I say “do it.”

In the old days, there were driver problems with 64-bit editions.

No more.

If the machine comes pre-loaded with Windows 10 and has 64-bit support, you’re likely quite golden with regards to drivers. You could, maybe possibly have some problems with some of the stuff ATTACHED to your machine, like Printers and Scanners. But Windows 7 and 8′s drivers support is excellent and those drivers should work in Windows 10. It’s a rare (mostly modern) device that won’t work with Windows 64-bit. Note: some won’t, and that’s a possible 64-bit risk.

For more information on 32 vs 64 bit support from Microsoft’s perspective, read this.

In short, for regular people, my advice is simple: Get Windows 10 (Home or Pro) 64-bit edition pre-loaded on your laptop if you want guaranteed success.

Where do I go next:

Again, your best bet for Price / Performance is the Dell Factory Outlet: http://www.dell.com/Outlet/ 

I found many, many, many under $600. Here’s an example available now as I write this:

  • Processor: Intel Core 5th Generation i3 Processor
  • Windows 10 (Home or Pro)
  • 128 GB Solid State Drive
  • 4GB DDR3L at 1600MHz
  • 13.3 Inch HD (1366×768) LED-backlit Non-Touch Display
  • Intel HD Graphics
  • Dell Outlet Latitude Laptop

Total price: $550

Are these the best, lightest, fastest, crispest, nicest laptops you’re going to find? DEFINITELY NO. But for MOST PEOPLE these laptops (and the warranty I explained earlier) are PERFECT for mere mortals.

So, after this: everything else.. everything else.. is just bells and whistles when it comes to laptops. 

You could argue that touch is becoming more and more important. But on a real LAPTOP, I don’t see it yet and I personally don’t use it yet. But if you really wanted touch, then… get one with touch. 

If you do want to go there, my only other big alternative might be a Microsoft Surface device. These are tablets that convert into laptops with snap-on keyboards (extra cost.) But the devices are amazingly built and very slick. You can go thru the myriad of options (again, this will be more expensive than other laptops, but you will almost certainly be happy with the experience.) Anyway, check them out here.

Part VII: Wait.. you said Solid-State (SSD) disks were the best, why don’t I see those (sometimes) when I try to buy a new laptop?

Here’s a fact: Your computer is ONLY as fast as its SLOWEST part.

Want to know what the slowest part is? The “spinning disk” hard drive. (Or “Hybrid” which is a spinning disk with SOME non-spinning stuff slapped on.)

Remember: Most computer manufacturers are cheap. They want to make something cheap and sell you something that works. When you get it they want you to be REASONABLY happy enough NOT to send it back. Its also in their best interest to say “500GB hard drive” or “750GB Hard drive”. Sounds HUUUUGE. So, ”spinning disks” do the job. They’re cheap and plentiful.

But, your spinning disk is holding you back.

SSD disks are where the action is. Sometimes you cannot buy SSD disks with new systems (or if you do, you can only get the smaller ones.)

Why? See point #1 above: Spinning disks are good enough. So that’s what manufacturers sell. It won’t be like this forever. I suspect in the next year this will tip the other way to SSDs being normally available in bigger sizes.

So, here’s the (counter-intuitive) recommendation if you want to maximize your new laptop and make it feel AWESOME / ZIPPY for the next several years. Note: There is a litttttttle risk and costs involved here. But I think its worth it. Here goes:

  • Buy your machine with the SMALLEST spinning disk hard drive you can. Usually the smallest is 320GB for laptops made.
  • Buy your own SSD. Buy the biggest you can afford. I have tested several brands, and can only hands-down recommend ONE manufacturer: Samsung.

Samsung has three “flavors” of SSD disks. But, for YOU the mere mortal, there’s only one: The Samsung EVO.  Here on Amazon it’s $80.99 for the 120GB version. (And you can select up to 1TB if you wanted for obviously more money.)

In MOST cases (not all!) these drives come with a cable and software to MIGRATE the hard drive you HAVE onto the new platform. Always remember that in most cases, you need to be USING less space than you’re GOING to. (Be sure to read the details of your purchase CAREFULLY to ensure that your drive comes with a transfer cable if you want to do this yourself.)

Anyway.. here’s an example:

– Your new laptop comes with a 500GB hard drive.

– Its using 20GB of space of that 500GB.

You can then upgrade to the 120GB SSD because you’re only using 20GB of that space.

Here’s another example:

-Your laptop comes with 500GB hard drive.

-You’re using 300GB of that space.

You cannot shove 300GB of stuff into that 120GB SSD disk.

Its usually pretty easy to then take out the OLD drive and throw in the NEW drive. If you’re UNCOMFORTABLE with all of this, you can pay someone at Best Buy or your local computer store to do all of this for you. Don’t pay more than $100 for the LABOR involved here.

What do you do with the original drive you took out? For $12 whole dollars on Amazon, you can put your ORIGINAL drive in a USB 3.0 case and reclaim that space as “spare” .. for pictures, videos, docs, whatever.

Part IX: What kind of laptop do you own, Jeremy? (Here comes a little geekier stuff.)

Some of you may wonder what kind of laptop I am running?

I use a laptop released in 2011 !! A Lenovo W520 with a four-core i7 processor and 1.5TB of SSD hard drive space (two SSD disks) and 32GB of RAM. It’s big and heavy and the power supply is .. just.. huge.

BUT REMEMBER: BUT I AM NOT A REGULAR PERSON.

I do live demonstrations in front of thousands of people and my laptop has to FLY.

I have another machine which is a Lenovo X260 running Windows 10 64-bit with 16GB of RAM and 512GB SSD disk, and its totally fantastic to represent my “mere mortal machine”.

I can hear you now: “But what about Dell? You reference Dell like 80 times in this article. Didn’’t you basically tell me to buy a Dell?”

Yes, I did.

I recommend Dell for most people. I needed some special stuff that I could only get with a Lenovo.

Remember: I’m an IT guy who does hard core demonstrations, so my needs are greater than some others. I need 32GB of RAM in my laptop, and SATA III and a lot lot more. Why the W520, specifically, and not another Lenovo (or Dell for that matter.)

So, Lenovo (and a handful of others) are using new faster “guts” called “Sandy Bridge” –which is the stuff “between” the Intel chips and the hard drives. It’s the stuff that “moves data” between the main processor and, well, everything else. And Sandy Bridge laptops are super slick and fast – provided –you jam in a super fast hard drive. For the geeks out there, Sandy Bridge laptops can take SATA III disks which are stupid-fast. So, I’ve decided for my W520 with an Core i7 and also decided to splurge and get (crazy, I know) a 1TB SSD SATA III disk. (Note: Geeky people will also know that something NEWER than Sandy Bridge is out called Haswell. Except it’s not all that much faster as evidenced in this article.)

Anyway.. no kidding: the SSD drive I purchased literally cost as much as the laptop itself (at the time).

Again: my set up is NOT RECOMMENDED for regular people.

Let me be frank: the Lenovo buying experience is not great. The laptops take forever to get to me and the last time, my assistant called every day for 90 days to get confirmation of the activation of the warranty.

I wouldn’t want to put Jon and Jane Buyer thru either of those experiences. And I’m bordering on “afraid” to use the warranty service. Haven’t used it yet, I’ll cross my fingers. Heck, I don’t even know where to call if I had a problem. And that’s a problem.

Final Thoughts (and if you read nothing else…)

So, for regular people, I still recommended the Dell Outlet to get cheap, reliable, new computers and the Dell warranty for reliable, easy to understand warranty service.

Hope this guide helps you and your friends out.

– Signed, your friendly neighborhood Jeremy Moskowitz, Group Policy MVP

Aug 2011
09

The EASY way, is the HARD way. The HARD way, is the EASY way.

This week’s tip isn’t technical. It’s philosophical.

I had a mentor who once said to me: "The EASY way is the HARD way. The HARD way, is the EASY way."

What the heck is he talking about?

Here’s an example. I live in the city, and I own a scooter.

I usually take my scooter to the scooter shop all the way across town. A whole 12 minutes away! I’d also need to be "picked up" and wait half the day to get it done. OMG, who has time for THAT !?

So I figured, okay, why don’t I just bring my scooter to my corner car repair guy — who is awesome and reasonably priced, and does great work on my cars. He says he can do my oil change in a ‘jiffy’ (oil change pun intended.)

I take the scooter over there. Its a mere 60 seconds from my house (maybe less.) And he says "No problem I can just do this while you wait."

"Awesome!" I think.. "All the TIME I’ll save."

Then he starts taking various things apart. The WRONG things apart. I literally see a spring pop out of the whatever-the-heck-he’s-working-on and it (no joke) rolls down the street.

He gets the spring, puts it back together and says.. "Oops.. that wasn’t it."

Then he does end up finding the right oil drain. And drains the oil to transfer to an Eco-Friendly recycle vessel.

He comments: "Oh wow.. this oil weird. Its green! That’s wild.. I’ve never seen that before."

Now I have sinking "pit of my stomach" feeling that I’ve just done something wrong. Wrong guy — wrong tools — wrong skills.

"So, Jeremy, what kind of oil does it take? 10w-30 ?"   Arrgh.. I’m NOT the car / scooter professional. How the heck am I supposed to know?

So, now I’m finding holding the owners manual, flipping thru it, and it says "HP4 oil only" which is apparently a Honda-specific thing, and.. so, he pokes around his shop, and, of course, doesn’t have what I need.

I -could- have scooted to Pep Boys and maybe get it myself, but now my oil is drained out the scooter — rendering it unscotter-able, and I’m stuck there. Grrr.

"Hmm.. Pep boys can deliver it to us.. will take most of the day to get it." he says.

What started at 9.00 AM is now done by 5.00 PM. Fine, all fine. We got what we needed and it’s all done and fine.

But… What’s the moral of the story?  

The EASY way was the HARD way.  The HARD way was the EASY way.

So, when we try to take the EASY way, it quite often "ends in tears" (as a friend likes to say.)

We TRY to take a shortcut.. using the wrong tools, people or technology to get the job done. Hoping to save some time, or a buck.

And what do we get? Sometimes, you get lucky and it works out great. But, if you’re like me, any "easy" shortcut ends up hurting — painfully.

What would the "hard" way have looked like:

  • Using the RIGHT place — the scooter shop.
  • Using the RIGHT people — the professional scooter dudes.
  • Using the RIGHT tools — the right OIL they have in stock.

The "hard" part about this would have been to get picked up or just wait the hour to get it done at the RIGHT place. Indeed, the HARD way really wasn’t that HARD at all, now was it?

And, going the "hard way" — I would have saved the heartache of seeing my scooter "spring apart" by the wrong guy.

Oh sure.. the scooter is fine now. But was it worth the risk of going the "easy way?"

Next time you have an important decision to make remember: The EASY way, is the HARD way. The HARD way, is the EASY way.

Jul 2011
25

How to Troubleshoot ANY Computer Problem (mostly) -or- the Zen of Enterprise Computer Troubleshooting

This tip is a blast from the past, but I've re-tooled it for today, because this has been on my mind again recently.

But we all have troubles with computers. That's our job. But if you can follow these simple suggestions, you can troubleshoot yourself out of just about any computer problem Group Policy or otherwise.

So, let’s dig in and talk about the Zen of Enterprise Computer Troubleshooting.

First thing’s first: duplicate it.

Having one machine, in isolation does NOT a big problem make.

It FEELS like a big problem when Sally’s machine isn’t processing GPOs, or when my own laptop refuses to run Application XYZ today, but it did yesterday.

It’s frustrating, and infuriating, annoying, and .. well… that’s not the point.

The point is, my friend, it’s an "isolated issue." And honestly, isolated issues are just that. Isolated.

Until you can get another machine to do exactly the same thing, you really have no problem to troubleshoot at all, enterprise speaking.

Your problem feels big. But, honestly, until you can duplicate it, it’s shaky grounds for troubleshooting.

If the problem is in virtual world, like VMware, or HyperV, try to reproduce it in the physical world just to rule that out. Weird stuff can live inside those virtual worlds sometimes.

Second thing: Log Files — The application log and Windows Logs and the applications log

Next, let’s not forget about log files.

Many areas of the computer have various logging levels. When it comes to troubleshooting, 8 out of 10 times, I just lose my brain and forget to check the most obvious of places: the logfiles !

Start out by checking Windows Application and System logs. An application may quietly write the secret answer to your problem in those logs, and bingo.. problem solved.

Logs help you keep your sanity, because you can prove to yourself, after 20 hours of working on something (and you’re starting to see flying purple elephants)… that the thing  you think you’re seeing is something you’re actually seeing.

Many applications, themselves, have log files. Digging into those can sometimes be key gateway to figuring out what the problem is.

 

Third Thing: Shoot a video of the problem

If you're trying to reproduce a problem that you can't easily produce, use Camtasia or some other screen capture utility to actually watch yourself reproduce the problem. This is the ultimate tool to prove to the developer (or the boss) there really is a problem here.

It could get you a quicker repair, more time to troubleshoot, or the funding you need to take your problem to the next level.

In a recent case for me, I saw the problem.. got it on video .. then was never able to reproduce it again.

Having it on video was awesome to have, because at least I knew I wasn't crazy. After hours of trying to reproduce the issue again, at least I had something to prove I did get the problem to fire off one time. Closer inspection of the video (the next day) showed I had a different networking connection the first time, versus all the next times.

And.. Bingo. That was my problem.

 

Forth thing: Ask for help

Googling / Binging / Technetting for a solution can only take you so far. Don’t be afraid to ask a college or trusted friend for help, look over your shoulder, or help in troubleshoot. That's a good way to show someone what you've done so far and what did and didn't work.

(PS: This shouldn’t be blanket permission for everyone to just email me when they’re having their own personal Group Policy struggles.. For that we have the community forum at GPanwers.com, okay? 🙂

Additionally, give that "helper friend" permission to suggest WILD IDEAS. You’ve already thought of all the easy stuff. Now give them permission to "go a little crazy" and suggest some off the beaten path solutions to your problems.  In short, I’m saying to leverage the resources you have. I have my own "inner circle" to leverage when I need help, and you should foster yours. Know where to post and request help for issues when you need help, and learn the kinds of responses you can get from those systems.

Fifth thing: Learn to Give up.

Here’s something about me that you may not know. I do yoga.

I’m no "yoga superman" or anything. I’m 6 ft 2 and weigh, well, more than I should.

But the point is, that I really love it. And why? Well, beyond the health reasons, there’s  something more.

I get to understand my own limitations. Instead of stretching my body to a stupid level — where I might grab my legs behind my ears and actually hurt myself– I know to "give up" and do something else more productive during that time.
Even if I’m little embarrassed that the WHOLE CLASS can do the stretch (whatever it is), and I can’t – I don’t care. I try to put that whole "pride thing" behind me and learn to acknowledge my own abilities. Why? Because I’m 6 ft 2 "big guy", and not 5 ft 3 "Yoga gal." We’re going to have different limitations. I can’t stretch like she can, and she can’t lift two 5 gallon water bottles into her house up two flights of stairs at the same time.

Why bring this up now? Because after you’ve done all the proper troubleshooting you can, and after you’ve asked all the people in your inner circle, and after you’ve hit the books, and after you’ve Googled / Binged your brains out… it’s time to give up.

 

Learn to GIVE UP.

 

But learn to give up in the right way. Microsoft product support (PSS) is there for you to troubleshoot your Microsoft related stuff.

Heck, you might have free support incidents as part of a Microsfot Technet Plus subscription or other channel.

The point of all of our jobs, at its core is to SOLVE PROBLEMS with the TOOLS WE CHOOSE.

I can swing a hammer only so much before I need to call in a carpenter and show me what

I’m doing wrong.

It doesn’t help our companies or our personal sanity to keep swinging the hammer only to find we really needed a screwdriver and a blowtorch and a lesson in how to use those tools in the first place.

Not to get all "touchy feely" here, but there is a point we all need to find it within ourselves where we say: "I’ve done all we can. It’s worth X dollars in value to me to get the answers I need to continue being effective."

So I do personally call Microsoft Product Support Services when I'm at the end of my rope.  They do an AMAZING job and will not close the support call until YOU are satisfied the problem has been solved. I love that.

 

How does this tie in to Group Policy Troubleshooting?

I want you to think of the above steps as overall advice, and not specifically for Group Policy.

As for Group Policy troubleshooting, or troubleshooting in general, my (recapped) suggestions are to:

  • Validate your findings on another machine. Just one machine in isolation does not a "problem" make (even if you’re tempted to feel that way.)
  • Try similar and dissimilar machines. If the problem is happening on XP, does it happen with Windows 7 too? Vice / Versa?
  • Have you been able to take screenshots or videos to share with others?
  • Have you asked someone on your "inner circle" to look over your shoulder to make sure you didn’t just make a bone-headed mistake?
  • Have you enabled all the logs you can? In GP, for instance, there’s at least three Windows event logs and also some auxiliary logs for "GP-related" functions like MSI packages, etc.

Of course in my class, you'll learn incredibly practical tips on troubleshooting Group Policy specifically, with precise step-by-steps using what I've learned over the years.

That will help you get out of hot water faster and back in business usually the same day.

See you in class.. !

Dec 2010
24

Backup Procedures so Easy, Even Your Mom Could (and should) do it. (Repost, with updates)

Presenting.. “Jeremy Moskowitz’s guide to how to backup your computer (which should be enough for most mere mortals who are not IT pros.)

If you ARE an IT pro, I would encourage you to PRINT and hand-deliver this to everyone during your Xmas or NY-eve party. It may seem like a weird gift NOW, but your friends and family will thank you that you took a moment to set them up with the protection they need.

In a departure of my usual IT-focused subject matter on GPanswers.com, this guide is not specifically geared toward IT managers or even IT pros. Again, this is a guide that you should give to anyone and everyone you know with a computer.

IT backup and restore procedures will be significantly different than this.

This is for “regular Joe and Jane” with one, two or maybe three computers in the house. I wrote this document up after I saw this picture (See below). In short, you never know what is going to happen to your data.There are *EIGHT* things you need to do to keep absolutely safe. Omitting any of these steps is not advised, but I can see if you only performed just ONE, you would still be BETTER OFF than almost most everyone I know. Doing all seven is a near guarantee you will not be “up the creek when the water really hits.”

The Motto I live by: “There are people who back up their data, and those who will.” That’s because DISK DRIVES ALWAYS FAIL. ALWAYS. It’s is a guarantee.  Even the newest ones with no moving parts. They all fail. Eventually. Read more to discover how “mere mortals” (not IT folks) should be backing up their data to prevent disaster.

Look at this picture. Ow. You never know what’s going to happen.

I know.. You’re thinking “Holy cow, Moskowitz. Really? Seven things I gotta do? You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Sorry. Yes. One method isn’t enough. Two *CAN* be enough. But you cannot count that any ONE method will always work.

That’s why you need at LEAST TWO. And the others are GOOD IDEAS.

Let me explain how I do it, and you can copy or otherwise parrot what I do. Or not. For the record, I haven’t lost any data since 1994, your mileage may vary.

Thing #1: Get an online backup service.

What is an online backup service?

It’s a little application that runs on your PC or Mac and constantly backs up your files to the online service thru the Intertubes. I use Carbonite.com (don’t sign up until you read this whole thing.) Others seem to like Mozy.com.

Q:How does it protect you:
A:You tell it where your “data” is.. (or let it decide) and if you DELETE a file, or a directory, you go online and RESTORE it.

Q: What happens if I blow away my whole hard drive or change hard drives
A: You can get it all back.. your data. Pictures, docs, etc. Not applications. You can transfer your subscription to other computers at the same time.

Q: What about applications I’ve installed:
A: You should have another copy of these somewhere. At least a LIST of what’s important, offline, somewhere. See my answer a little later.

Q: What about if I overwrite a file by accident
A: Carbonite says they keep 3 months of backups of a file. Never used it.

Q: What does it cost:
A: $55 a year for “all you can eat.” Multi-year discounts. Get it. It’s a freekin’ no-brainer. $55 a year per computer.. GIGS of storage. They do not monitor storage usage unless it's clearly over-the-top, crazypants Gigabytes.

Q: Mac and PC?
A: Yes. Get it.

Q: Do I need to license each computer in my house?
A: Yes. Do that.

Q: Does it take 90 years to upload all my stuff?
A: Yes. The first time is quite painful for your internet connection. After that, easy.

Q: Are there other backup services like this?
A: Yes, lots. I happen to use this one. Carbonite.com. Others like Mozy.com.

Q: Does it handle open files? If my Outlook is running does it back that up?
A: No. This is a pain in the neck, and you'll occasionally have to just reboot your machine, log on, then go to sleep (leaving the computer on.) Only then will 100% of the files be uploaded to the service.

Q: Is it safe? Do they sell my personal data to the mafia?
A: In the last century, you decided to trust your banks with your money. Now, in the 21st century you have to have some trust in services that hold your data. My stuff is up there as are millions of other peoples. Seems safe. But, make sure, ya know, you're not using a lousy password to access the stuff through their web page.

Thing #2: Get a full-disk backup program

If you’re not using Windows 7, do that soon. Inside Windows 7 is a very decent “Full Disk backup” program. XP has one too, but it’s not quite as good.

In Windows 7, just type “Backup” at the start prompt. The Windows 7 default backup routine is to take a full disk backup. If you ARE an IT Pro reading this, or a home user capable of using the command prompt, my suggested command to run to automate the process is:

wbadmin start backup -backuptarget:O: -include:C: -allcritical -quiet

(Where O: is whatever drive letter houses an external USB disk.) This will ensure that all the Windows 7 important bits are captured and ready to be placed upon the disk. I have found this to be more reliable than the GUI version of the backup tool.

Macs have a built-in excellent program called Time Machine. Check it out, and use it.

If you’re using XP, or even Windows 7, I might suggest something like

http://www.acronis.com/homecomputing/products/trueimage/ (Able to successfully backup and restore to same machine. Have not tried their Universal Restore option.)
or
http://www.symantec.com/norton/ghost (personally, this did not work for me; tried it and didn't get 100% backup, posted to their forums and got lousy responses.)

These products take full SNAPSHOTS of your machine, (and increments) and puts them on an external USB disk (more later). When the crap hits, you boot off a CD (that you make) and .. whamo.. pull from your recovery backup.

Thing #3: Backup to an external USB drive (and back up MOST important stuff here.)

In Step #2, you saved an “image” of your PC somewhere. Where? Here. External USB disks are just DIRT CHEAP.

Here’s 250GB for $39.99. More Googling with yield better results, even.

http://www.tigerdirect.com/applications/searchtools/item-details.asp?EdpNo=18657&csid=_21

Get two or three. See next FAQ for why.

Thing #4: Don’t keep all your backups / computers in your house !

Keep one backup in the house at all times, another at your Mom’s or in the safe deposit box at the bank. True, the bad guys can break in and steal your backup at Mom’s, so a safe deposit box is actually way better.

Why are you doing this “offsite backup?” So, if your house burns down, so does your laptop, -AND- the backup you have in the house. Having another at your Mom’s or in the Safe at the bank is a GOOD IDEA.. But this takes DILLIGENCE.

I know someone who did thing #3 (above) but his laptop *AND* his backup were caught in a flood. If he did Thing #4 as suggested here, he would still have been protected.

So, what do *I* do? Every Monday, I rotate my sets of drives such that I always have TWO in the bank and ONE coming back to me for making a new backup for the next week.

Thing #5: Making DIRECT copies of your most critical data to the external disk drives

If you have EXTRA room after thing #2, then make a DIRECT copy (drag and drop, xcopy, etc) of your MOST IMPORTANT STUFF directly to the external disk drive.

Why? Because if something got CORRUPTED in the snapshot backup of step #2, you at least have YOUR MOST IMPORTANT STUFF as just regular “plain ol’ files” for you to recover.

Just plug in your USB backup and, COPY BACK.

This year, I blew up my humongous .mp3 collection. This became a no brainer for me to repair. I backed up 3 days earlier. I simply deleted all the MP3 on my desktop, and copied the backed up files to their normal home. Boom. Done.

Thing #6: Rotate between AT LEAST two, possibly three USB drives.

This is similar to #4, but three is better than two. This gives me THREE weeks to get something back from the dead if I messed up.

Thing #7: Keep copies of your ORIGINAL disks, downloadables, KEYCODES and Drivers.

I have some key “special” folders in case I need them:

  • Keycodes: c:datakeycodes. It has WORD and TXT files with all the keycodes of everything I’ve ever bought, ever.
  • ISOs: c:ISOs.  This is a collection of the DVDs and CD-ROMs I have physically purchased, including Quickbooks and Microsoft Visio. If you're unfamiliar with how to take your store-bought DVDs and CDs and make ISO files, consider asking your IT friend for a tutorial. This usually requires (free or cheap) software to convert your CDs and DVDs with applications on them to ISO files.
  • Drivers: c:Drivers: This has every driver I would need to get my Laptop and desktops system back going again (sound, video, network, disk, etc.)

This collection is enormously helpful if need to restore them or repair them, or I’m building / re-building a system.

I built a new Windows 7 machine last Thursday and was up and running in 3 hours because I had all my ISOs, keycodes and drivers — all in one place, ready to go.

Thing #8: Test your restore procedure.

This can be really tricky, especially for item #2 (full snapshot backup.)

For laptops, invest in a second hard drive, even if you use it JUST for this test. That’s right. For about $70 or so, you can get, say, this drive:

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16822148374&cm_re=500GB_laptop_drive-_-22-148-374-_-Product

And then TEST RESTORE from Step #2 onto this drive. MOST laptops can quickly pull out the drive, replace it with this new drive, and allow you to test your restore in full.

Then, when your test is complete, keep using that disk, or swap back to the original. Do this every 3-6 months or so.

For Desktops.. same deal. Get another drive. Get a technical friend to help you if you need to. This procedure IS harder on a desktop than a laptop.

But do TRY to do a similar “full recovery” test. You will be SO GLAD you did this NOW and find problems NOW, as opposed to WHEN the problem occurs and you cannot correct from it anymore.

If you don’t want to do this, at LEAST try to do perform test restores of your DATA from your ONLINE service and your external USB-drive extra-copies

For extra credit, try to recover data from ANOTHER COMPUTER, in case yours becomes a smoldering mess or you drop it in a lake or something.

Other advice:

1. If you do just ONE thing on this list, do #5: copy your most critical stuff to cheap external USB disks. You’re a total fool if you do not at this point because USB disks are so cheap, and they work on Macs and PCs.

2. Its better to do at least ONE of these than NONE of these. I’ve outlined 8 steps here. But if you only want to do one, but do it religiously, it’s better than doing NONE.

3. Don’t count on one method working 100% of the time. That’s why I use three methods and hope ONE of them works when the time comes.

4. Keep it simple. The LESS COMPLICATED you backup and restore procedure is, the better.

5. If all else fails, and you didn’t listen to me AT ALL, and your hard drive dies, and you DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO Go here:

http://www.ontrackdatarecovery.com/hard-drive-recovery/

For a SMALL FORTUNE, they will open your hard drive and try to recover your data.

It’s not surprising that these companies stay in business. Most people do not back up. Will you pay NOW (cheap backup) or LATER (expensive recovery service that doesn’t always work?)

It’s up to you.

That is all.

Good luck.

Dec 2009
28

Backup Tips for the 21st Century: Backup procedures so easy, your Mom could (and should) do it.

Presenting..

“Jeremy Moskowitz’s guide to how to backup your computer (which should be enough for most people)”

In a departure of my usual stuff here, this guide is not specifically geared toward IT managers or even IT pros. Rather, this is a guide that you should give to anyone and everyone you know with a computer.

IT backup and restore procedures will be significantly different than this. This is for “regular Joe and Jane” with one, two or maybe three computers in the house.

I wrote this document up after I saw this picture (See below). In short, you never know what is going to happen to your data.

There are *SEVEN* things you need to do to keep absolutely safe.

Omitting any of these steps is not advised, but I can see if you only did just ONE, you would still be BETTER OFF than most. Doing all seven is a near guarantee you will not be “up the creek when the water really hits.”

The Motto I live by: “There are people who back up their data, and those who will.”

That’s because DISK DRIVES ALWAYS FAIL.  ALWAYS. It’s is a guarantee.  Even the newest ones with no moving parts. They all fail. Eventually.

Read more to discover how “mere mortals” (not IT folks) should be backing up their data to prevent disaster.

 

Look at this picture. Ow. You never know what’s going to happen.

I know.. You’re thinking “Holy cow, Moskowitz. Really? Seven things I gotta do? You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Sorry. Yes. One method isn’t enough. Two *CAN* be enough. But you cannot count that any ONE method will always work.

That’s why you need at LEAST TWO. And the others are GOOD IDEAS.

Let me explain how I do it, and you can copy or otherwise parrot what I do. Or not. For the record, I haven’t lost any data since 1994, your mileage may vary.

Thing #1: Get an online backup service.

() What is it:

It’s a little application that runs on your PC or Mac and constantly backs up your files to the online service thru the Intertubes. I use Carbonite.com (don’t sign up until you read this whole thing.) Others seem to like Mozy.com.

() How does it protect you:
You tell it where your “data” is.. (or let it decide) and if you DELETE a file, or a directory, you go online and RESTORE it.

() What happens if I blow away my whole hard drive or change hard drives
You can get it all back.. your data. Pictures, docs, etc. Not applications. You can transfer your subscription to other computers at the same time.

() What about applications I’ve installed:
You should have another copy of these somewhere. At least a LIST of what’s important, offline, somewhere. See my answer a little later.

() What about if I overwrite a file by accident
Carbonite says they keep 3 months of backups of a file. Never used it.

() What does it cost:
$55 a year for “all you can eat.” Multi-year discounts. Get it. It’s a freekin’ no-brainer. $55 a year per computer.. GIGS of storage. They do not monitor.

() Mac and PC?
Yes. Get it.

() Do I need to license each computer in my house?
Yes. Do that.

() Does it take 90 years to upload all my stuff?
Yes. The first time is quite painful for your internet connection. After that, easy.

() Are there other backup services like this?
Yes, lots. I happen to use this one. Carbonite.com. Others like Mozy.com.

Thing #2: Get a full-disk backup program

If you’re not using Windows 7, do that soon. Inside Windows 7 is a very decent “Full Disk backup” program. XP has one too, but it’s not quite as good.

In Windows 7, just type “Backup” at the start prompt. The Windows 7 default backup routine is to take a full disk backup. Macs have a built-in excellent program called Time Machine. Check it out, and use it.

If you’re using XP, or even Windows 7, I might suggest something like

http://www.acronis.com/homecomputing/products/trueimage/
or
http://www.symantec.com/norton/ghost

This takes a full SNAPSHOT of your machine, (and increments) and puts them on an external USB disk (more later). When the shit hits, you boot off a CD (that you make) and .. whamo.. pull from your recovery backup.

Thing #3: Backup to an external USB drive (and back up MOST important stuff here.)

In Step #2, you saved an “image” of your PC somewhere. Where? Here. External USB disks are just DIRT CHEAP.

Here’s 250GB for $59.99. More Googling with yield better results, even.

http://www.tigerdirect.com/applications/SearchTools/item-details.asp?EdpNo=4853000&Sku=H450-8200

Get two or three. See next FAQ for why.

Thing #4: Don’t keep all your backups / computers in your house !

Keep one backup in the house, another at your Mom’s or in the safe at the bank. True, the bad guys can break in and steal your backup at Mom’s, so a safe deposit box is better.

Why are you doing this “offsite backup?” So, if your house burns down, so does your laptop, -AND- the backup you have in the house. Having another at your Mom’s or in the Safe at the bank is a GOOD IDEA.. But this takes DILLIGENCE.

I know someone who did thing #3 (above) but his laptop *AND* his backup were caught in a flood. If he did Thing #4 as suggested here, he would still have been protected.

So, what do *I* do? Every Monday, I rotate to have TWO in the bank and ONE coming back to me for making a new backup.

If you have EXTRA room after thing #2, then make a DIRECT copy of your MOST IMPORTANT STUFF directly to the external disk drive.

Why? Because if something got CORRUPTED in the backup of step #2, you at least have YOUR MOST IMPORTANT STUFF as just regular “plain ol’ files” for you to recover.

Just plug in your USB backup and, COPY BACK.

Thing #5: Rotate between AT LEAST two, possibly three USB drives.

This is similar to #4, but three is better than two. This gives me THREE weeks to get something back from the dead if I messed up.

Thing #6 Keep copies of your ORIGINAL disks, downloadables, KEYCODES and Drivers.

I have some key “special” folders in case I need them:

() Keycodes: c:datakeycodes. It has WORD and TXT files with all the keycodes of everything I’ve ever bought.

()ISOs: c:ISOs.  This is a collection of the DVDs and CD-ROMs I have physically purchased, including Quickbooks and Microsoft Visio. To make ISO files, consider

()Drivers: c:Drivers: This has every driver I would need to get my Laptop and desktops system back going again (sound, video, network, disk, etc.)

This collection is enormously helpful if need to restore them or repair them, or I’m building / re-building a system.

For instance, this week, I built a new Windows 7 machine last Thursday and was up and running in 3 hours because I had all my ISOs, keycodes and drivers — all in one place, ready to go.

Thing #7: Test your restore procedure.

This can be really tricky, especially for item #2 (full snapshot backup.)

For laptops, invest in a second hard drive, even if you use it JUST for this test. That’s right. For about $100 or so, you can get, say, this drive:

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16822148374&cm_re=500GB_laptop_drive-_-22-148-374-_-Product

And then TEST RESTORE from Step #2 onto this drive. MOST laptops can quickly pull out the drive, replace it with this new drive, and allow you to test your restore in full.

Then, when your test is complete, keep using that disk, or swap back to the original. Do this every 3-6 months or so.

For Desktops.. same deal. Get another drive. Get a technical friend to help you if you need to. It IS harder on a desktop than a laptop.

But do TRY to do a similar “full recovery” test. You will be SO GLAD you did this NOW and find problems NOW, as opposed to WHEN the problem occurs and you cannot correct from it anymore.

If you don’t want to do this, at LEAST try to do perform test restores of your DATA from your ONLINE service and your external USB-drive extra-copies

For extra credit, try to recover data from ANOTHER COMPUTER, in case yours becomes a smoldering mess or you drop it in a lake or something.

Other advice:

1. If you do just ONE thing on this list, do #3. You’re a total fool if you do not at this point because USB disks are so cheap, and they work on Macs and PCs.

2. Its better to do ONE of these than NONE of these. I’ve outlined 7 steps here. But if you only want to do one, but do it religiously, it’s better than doing NONE.

3. Don’t count on one method working 100% of the time. That’s why I use three methods and hope ONE of them works when the time comes.

4. Keep it simple. The LESS COMPLICATED you backup and restore procedure is, the better.

5. If all else fails, and you didn’t listen to me AT ALL, and your hard drive dies, and you DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO Go here:

http://www.ontrackdatarecovery.com/hard-drive-recovery/

For a SMALL FORTUNE, they will open your hard drive and try to recover your data.

It’s not surprising that these companies stay in business. Most people do not back up. Will you pay NOW (cheap backup) or LATER (expensive recovery service that doesn’t always work?)

It’s up to you.

That is all.

Good luck.

Dec 2009
10

Office 2010: How are you going to deploy it?

The Office 2010 deployment story using Group Policy doesn’t get any better than Office 2007. You could argue it gets worse. There is no longer any possible way to deploy Office 2007 via Group Policy (outside of 3rd party tools like Specops Deploy.)

I found this plucky little document entitled “Deployment Options for Microsoft Office 2010” found here http://tinyurl.com/yfredq2.

In short, there’s a PDF, Visio and XPS document showing Microsoft’s sanctioned ways to deploy Office. Yes, Group Policy is on the list, but it’s the same way as Office 2007: Group Policy using Startup Scripts.

Just for fun, I tried deploying Office 2010 using Group Policy Software Installation. No dice. There’s a single error message in the event log with a non-obvious message about the failure.

Great.

So, here are the official steps (which will work for both Office 2007 and Office 2010). This is my suggested method for deploying, since the other options are spendy.. (click MORE) to read the answer.

Step 1: Create a config.xml File
We saw the Office 2007 version of this earlier. It’s the same idea in Office 2010. It’s used when clients initially install Office 2010. You can set the installation to be silent, for instance.
At last check the Config.xml file for Office 2010 was documented here… Shortened to http://tinyurl.com/ye4sorx.

Step 2: Create a Custom MSP File
Like Office 2007, the Office 2010 config.xml file in Step 1 can only take us so far. Again, to create more Office simply run setup.exe /admin, and-voila!-the Office 2010 customization tool.
At last check the Office Customization Tool (OCT) can be found here: Shortened to http://tinyurl.com/ybtkxen
Again, it produces .MSP files.

Step 3: Place your MSP in the “Updates” folder
At installation time, you can have clients embrace the customizations you set in Step 2. Simply put the MSP file in the “Updates” folder on the network installation point of Office.

Step 4: Use Startup Scripts to Deploy Office 2007 or Office 2010
Use this suggested start up script to kick off you Office 2007 or Office 2010 installation: http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkID=94264
You can use the script to ensure that you’re selecting the proper config.xml file you created in Step 1.

Optional: Re-Patch Your Target Machines
You can always create a specific MSP file for a specific machine or two using the OCT. For instance, maybe you just want one or two machines to not have Microsoft Access 2010.
After creating the MSP file, use the information about msiexec /p I detailed in the section “Using MSIEXEC to Patch a Distribution Point” in my book.

Except you don’t update the distribution point. Instead, you patch the specific machines, individually.

You’ll likely need another startup script to figure this out if you want to target specific machines.

If you’ve found a creative way to work around these Office 2007 or Office 2010 issues, I want to hear about it. Be sure to e-mail me and let me know your best techniques for deploying a customized Office 2007 or Office 2010 installation using Group Policy.

Aug 2009
14

My First Days with Windows 7

Let's go right to the punchline: Overall; positive.

Okay, now let's get to what's great, what's not and what's just weird.

Actually, before we do that, let's start off with my new hardware. If you know me, you know I love to do demos. I do demos left and right in my training courses, at WinConnections and TechEd, and other sundry events.

And, of course, I need to use a laptop lug around and do that. My laptop of choice has always been Dell. I've been a Dell man, since, well, Dell Laptops had TRACKBALLS in them, and not touchpads.

Yes, _that_ long.

Now, for the first time ever I went Lenovo. Honestly, the new Dell E series just seemed too "humongo" for me. The whole package, including the power supply just looked too.. Bulky.

 

Yep, that was my "very technical reason" for not getting another Dell. I'm sure they're great inside, but their aesthetics (at least compared to my Dell D620) was not an improvement (to me, anyway.) So, I got a Lenovo T500. The name alone makes me feel like I'm perpetually the star in my own personal Terminator film. I bought it cheap from the "Lenovo outlet store." It has a T9600 Core2Duo processor on board, and I fitted it myself with (oh drool!) 8GB RAM and 500GB hard drive @ 7200RPM (killer!)

Then I waited to get my hot little hands on Windows 7. I was in the beta program, so I got a "free key" to use when the beta ended.

Last Thursday night, I installed Windows 7, 64-Bit edition on my new monster laptop.

Before that, I had previously went to Lenovo's website and downloaded ANYTHING associated with the T500 + Vista. That is to say, since all Vista drivers are "upward" compatbile to Windows 7, having them "at the ready" seemed to be a good idea. I put them on an external USB disk.

My first 24 hours wasn't great. I installed Windows 7. I took all the updates. Then I installed all the T500 / Vista drivers. I rebooted when necessary. Finally, when I installed the video driver software, Windows 7 just hung and hung and hung and hung at the "Please wait" page.

Arrrgh. And this was AFTER I had already activated Windows 7 (Stupid, Stupid, Moskowitz.)

Well, I knew I could boot to Safe Mode and hack and slash my way out of this. But the more I thought about it.. why was I installing drivers for something that was, well, working already?

So I didn't.

I re-formatted and re-installed Windows 7. In my experience, more manufacturer software equals slower and more unstable machine. Said another way, if I can "get away with" the drivers that are included as part of Windows 7, I should have a faster and more stable system overall ... instead of having to know exactly WHICH drivers and in WHAT ORDER I should be installing them.

So that's what I did. I loaded Windows 7, I took all of Windows' updates (it had several driver updates for my system.) There were two devices Windows didn't have "built in drivers" for, and I did, indeed, install those from the Lenovo website. And that was it. I was done.

That being said, it wasn't totally a bed of roses.

This T500 system has this newfangled idea of having TWO video chips instead of just one. Let's call these two chips the "Good one" and the "Awesome one." Honestly, I don't ever, ever need the "Awesome one." I don't play games, so I don't need "awesomeness." "Awesome graphics" don't make my demos any faster, and honestly, that's all I care about for this machine.

This newfangled idea of two chips sounds great, but for me it just wasn't working perfectly with my total re-install. Every time I closed the lid and re-opened it, it thought my laptop display was "Display 2." All the stuff I was working on just disappeared.

You could say: "Well, Moskowitz, if you installed the drivers from Lenovo, you wouldn't be having this problem." Except, remember .. when I did install the drivers, that's exactly when the machine went into "mega hang" mode.

So, I needed a Plan B.

To fix this, I adjusted the T500's bios to say "Kill the Awesome chip. Only let me use the Good chip." And magically, all my troubles went away.

I'm sure, really, really sure, this is because I didn't choose to install Lenovo's "mega video driver" or something for the secondary video driver chips.

But I'm okay with that. I honestly need my laptop to do EXACTLY two things: display on the panel when I want to, and display outward on the VGA port for projecting when I want to.

Nothing fancy. So, no "awesome chip settings with crazy drivers" for me, thank you very much.

So, how is my overall experience with Windows 7 compared to Windows Vista? Well, my biggest problem with Windows Vista was that it was slow. Yes, lots of people complained about it being slow, but I tried to take an empirical approach and learn WHY my experience with Vista was slow.

For me, personally, I learned the "slow culprit" was the "Windows Search" service. On my previous laptop, the D620, where I tried to run Vista, every time I ran Filemon / Procmon, I could see it. Spinning it's wheels, doing it's thing -- ALL THE TIME and slowing me down.

As for Windows 7, I'm sad to say, that my initial experience is the same in this particular regard. Windows 7 still appears to (at least with my files) churn and churn and churn.

Maybe I haven't given it a fair shake. It's true, I didn't let it "settle in for three days" before getting frustrated and turning it off. I do have 60GB of "data" for it to pour over. So, in fairness, I'm going away next weekend, and I'm planning on turning ON the search service BEFORE I LEAVE, and see what happens when I return.

But for now, I have uninstalled the Windows 7 search feature, and you also (oddly) seem to need
to DISABLE the search service to really kill it (according to my Procmon traces.)

Here's the payoff though: Man, is this lappy fast! Right now, I'm really happy with the speed. Applications pop. Demos snap. Everything is like a crisp clean spring morning. Between a new processor, new OS, the 64-bits, 8GB of RAM and a 7200 RPM HD, darn tootin' this thing better fly.

Here are some miscellaneous notes about my first 7 days, in no particular order:

  • I have a wacky wacky "Cannon" all-in-one printer, fax, scanner thing. And that driver was included in Windows 7. And, it even shows me the "ink levels" while printing; just like the driver I previously needed to download from Cannon then hand-install on XP. Neat.
  • I'm pretty "keyboard centric." So about 1000 times a day, I type the following key sequence when working on XP: Ctl-Esc, R, cmd, enter. In XP, this would open the Start menu, R would hit the Run command, and CMD would get me to a command prompt. Now on Win 7, the same sequence makes NOTHING happen, because (even though I've put RUN back on the Start menu) there's no keyboard shortcut for 'R'un. gRRRR.  PS: My lappy has a WIN key, so Win+R work, but my external keyboard doesn't, so I'm stuck.
  • I have ONE piece of hardware that, darn it, I cannot use, and man, I'm disappointed. It's a USB-connected phone system that's voice activated and hooks into Outlook. It just crashes every time it runs. Just flat out crashes. Can't really get to the bottom of this. If anyone else has this device, it's called ArialPhone, and I'd love to hear if it's working for anyone out there on Win 7 or even Vista. (PS: Even "XP compatibility mode" likely won't get me out of this one; unless I want to run a copy of Outlook *INSIDE* that fake XP machine, which I don't.)
  • I have two other Outlook plug-ins which worked great on XP, but won't do their magic on Windows 7. Oddly, two *OTHER* Outlook plug-ins are working swimmingly. So, I don't know where the problem is. Still hacking on this one.
  • The Beta for the App-V client 4.6 is out, and includes 64-bit support. Honestly, the thing seems ROCK SOLID to me, but my understanding is that it's planned to be Beta for a while before it goes gold. AppV Applications in cache seem to run WAY WAY faster than they did in AppV 4.5. It took me about an hour to convert all my existing 4.5 sequenced apps to 4.6.
  • My wife walked behind me to see what I was working on. And it was my Windows 7 desktop. She saw the huge, huge icons that Windows 7 defaults with and asked "Are you in safe mode?" I can totally see her confusion, as Windows 7, in my opinion, looks totally bizzare with those big honkin' icons. The fix? While on the desktop, hold down Control and use the scroll wheel of your mouse to adjust. Kooky.
  • Lots of people seem to be all "gaga" about the new taskbar. Honestly, I don't love the "mixed metaphor" of applications running and applications' icons all jumbled together. I've reset it act a little more like XP did, and I'm a little saner now.

But, all around, 95% of my applications are working. Everything that's "broken" seems to be revolved around Outlook in some way. Everything else is working great. So, I'm not sure if I can blame Windows or what here. Regardless, I'll get to the bottom of these and shake out my final bugs.

But in short, my first week -- pretty solid after getting thru the bumps. I do have that "last mile" to push through, and I'll keep you posted as things progress.

Aug 2009
13

My First 7 Days with Windows 7


Let's go right to the punchline: Overall; positive.

Okay, now let's get to what's great, what's not and what's just weird.

Actually, before we do that, let's start off with my new hardware. If you know me, you know I love to do demos. I do demos left and right in my training courses, at WinConnections and TechEd, and other sundry events.

And, of course, I need to use a laptop lug around and do that. My laptop of choice has always been Dell. I've been a Dell man, since, well, Dell Laptops had TRACKBALLS in them, and not touchpads.

Yes, _that_ long.

Now, for the first time ever I went Lenovo. Honestly, the new Dell E series just seemed too "humongo" for me. The whole package, including the power supply just looked too.. Bulky.

Yep, that was my "very technical reason" for not getting another Dell. I'm sure they're great inside, but their asthetics (at least compared to my Dell D620) was not an improvement (to me, anyway.) So, I got a Lenovo T500. The name alone makes me feel like I'm perpetually the star in my own personal Terminator film.  I bought it cheap from the "Lenovo outlet store." It has a T9600 Core2Duo processor on board, and I fitted it myself with (oh drool!) 8GB RAM and 500GB hard  drive @ 7200RPM (killer!)

Then I waited to get my hot little hands on Windows 7. I was in the beta program, so I got a "free key" to use when the beta ended.

Last Thursday night, I installed Windows 7, 64-Bit edition on my new monster laptop.

Before that, I had previously went to Lenovo's website and downloaded ANYTHING associated with the T500 + Vista. That is to say, since all Vista drivers are "upward" compatbile to Windows 7, having them "at the ready" seemed to be a good idea. I put them on an external USB disk.

My first 24 hours wasn't great. I installed Windows 7. I took all the updates. Then I installed all the T500 / Vista drivers. I rebooted when necessary. Finally, when I installed the video driver software, Windows 7 just hung and hung and hung and hung at the "Please wait" page.

Arrrgh. And this was AFTER I had already activated Windows 7 (Stupid, Stupid, Moskowitz.)

Well, I knew I could boot to Safe Mode and hack and slash my way out of this. But the more I thought about it.. why was I installing drivers for something that was, well, working already?

So I didn't.

I re-formatted and re-installed Windows 7. In my experience, more manufacturer software equals slower and more unstable machine. Said another way, if I can "get away with" the drivers that are included as part of Windows 7, I should have a faster and more stable system overall ... instead of having to know exactly WHICH drivers and in WHAT ORDER I should be installing them.

So that's what I did. I loaded Windows 7, I took all of Windows' updates (it had several driver updates for my system.) There were two devices Windows didn't have "built in drivers" for, and I did, indeed, install those from the Lenovo website.  And that was it. I was done.

That being said, it wasn't totally a bed of roses.

This T500 system has this newfangled idea of having TWO video chips instead of just one. Let's call these two chips the "Good one" and the  "Awesome one." Honestly, I don't ever, ever need the "Awesome one." I don't play games, so I don't need "awesomeness." "Awesome graphics" don't make my demos any faster, and honestly, that's all I care about for this machine.

This newfangled idea of two chips sounds great, but for me it just wasn't working perfectly with my total re-install. Every time I closed the lid and re-opened it, it thought my laptop display was "Display 2." All the stuff I was working on just disappeared.

You could say: "Well, Moskowitz, if you installed the drivers from Lenovo, you wouldn't be having this problem." Except, remember .. when I did install the drivers, that's exactly when the machine went into "mega hang" mode.

So, I needed a Plan B.

To fix this, I adjusted the T500's bios to say "Kill the Awesome chip. Only let me use the Good  chip." And magically, all my troubles went away.

I'm sure, really, really sure, this is because I didn't choose to install Lenovo's "mega driver" or something for the secondary video driver chips.

But I'm okay with that. I honestly need my laptop to do EXACTLY two things: display on the panel when I want to, and display outward on the VGA port for projecting when I want to.

Nothing fancy. So, no "awesome chip settings with crazy drivers" for me, thank you very much.

So, how is my overall experience with Windows 7 compared to Windows Vista? Well, my biggest problem with Windows Vista was that it was slow. Yes, lots of people complained about it being slow, but I tried to take an empirical approach and learn WHY my experience with Vista was slow.

For me, personally, I learned the "slow culprit" was the "Windows Search" service. On my previous laptop, the D620, where I tried to run Vista, every time I ran Filemon / Procmon, I could see it. Spinning it's wheels, doing it's thing -- ALL THE TIME and slowing me down.

As for Windows 7, I'm sad to say, that my initial experience is the same in this particular regard. Windows 7 still appears to (at least with my files) churn and churn and churn.

Maybe I haven't given it a fair shake. It's true, I didn't let it "settle in for three days" before getting frustrated and turning it off. I do have 60GB of "data" for it to pour over. So, in fairness, I'm going away for the next weekend, and I'm planning on turning ON the search service BEFORE I LEAVE, and see what happens when I return.

But for now, I have uninstalled the Windows 7 search feature, and you also (oddly) seem to need
to DISABLE the search service to really kill it (according to my Procmon traces.)

Here's the payoff though: Man, is this lappy fast! Right now, I'm really happy with the speed. Applications pop. Demos snap. Everything is like a crisp clean spring morning. Between a new processor, new OS, the 64-bits, 8GB of RAM and a 7200 RPM HD, darn tootin' this thing better fly.

Here are some miscellaneous notes about my first 7 days, in no particular order:

- I have a wacky wacky "Cannon" all-in-one printer, fax, scanner thing. And that driver was included in Windows 7. And, it even shows me the "ink levels" while printing; just like the driver I previously needed to download from Cannon then hand-install on XP. Neat.

- I'm pretty "keyboard centric." So about 1000 times a day, I type the following key sequence when working on XP: Ctl-Esc, R, cmd, enter. In XP, this would open the Start menu, R would hit the Run command, and CMD would get me to a command prompt. Now on Win 7, the same sequence makes NOTHING happen, because (even though I've put RUN back on the Start menu) there's no keyboard shortcut for 'R'un. gRRRR.

- I have ONE piece of hardware that, darn it, I cannot use, and man, I'm disappointed. It's a phone system that's voice activated and hooks into Outlook. It just crashes every time it runs. Can't really get to the bottom of this. If anyone else has this device, it's called ArialPhone, and I'd love to hear if it's working for anyone out there on Win 7 or even Vista.

- I have two other Outlook plug-ins which worked great on XP, but won't do their magic on Windows 7. Oddly, two *OTHER* Outlook plug-ins are working swimmingly. So, I don't know where the problem is. Still hacking on this one.

- The Beta for the App-V client 4.6 is out, and includes 64-bit support. Honestly, the thing seems ROCK SOLID to me, but my understanding is that it's planned to be Beta for a while before it goes gold. AppV Applications in cache seem to run WAY WAY faster than they did in AppV 4.5. It took me about an hour to convert all my existing 4.5 sequenced apps to 4.6.

- My wife walked behind me to see what I was working on. And it was my Windows 7 desktop. She saw the huge, huge icons that Windows 7 defaults with and asked "Are you in safe mode?" I can totally see her confusion, as Windows 7, in my opinion, looks totally bizzare with those big honkin' icons. The fix? While on the desktop, hold down Control and use the scroll wheel of your mouse to adjust. Kooky.

- Lots of people seem to be all "gaga" about the new taskbar. Honestly, I don't love the "mixed metaphor" of applications running and applications' icons all jumbled together. I've reset it act a little more like XP did, and I'm a little saner now.

But, all around, 95% of my applications are working. Everything that's "broken" seems to be revolved around Outlook in some way. Everything else is working great. So, I'm not sure if I can blame Windows or what here. Regardless, I'll get to the bottom of these and shake out my final bugs.

But in short, my first week -- pretty solid after getting thru the bumps.



Aug 2009
13

First Look at Windows 7

Part 1: My First 7 days with Windows 7
------------------------------------------------------

Let's go right to the punchline: Overall; positive.

Okay, now let's get to what's great, what's not and what's just weird.

Actually, before we do that, let's start off with my new hardware. If you know me, you know I love to do demos. I do demos left and right in my training courses, at WinConnections and TechEd, and other sundry events.

And, of course, I need to use a laptop lug around and do that. My laptop of choice has always been Dell. I've been a Dell man, since, well, Dell Laptops had TRACKBALLS in them, and not touchpads.

Yes, _that_ long.

Now, for the first time ever I went Lenovo. Honestly, the new Dell E series just seemed too "humongo" for me. The whole package, including the power supply just looked too.. Bulky.

Yep, that was my "very technical reason" for not getting another Dell. I'm sure they're great inside, but their aesthetics (at least compared to my Dell D620) was not an improvement (to me, anyway.) So, I got a Lenovo T500. The name alone makes me feel like I'm perpetually the star in my own personal Terminator film. I bought it cheap from the "Lenovo outlet store." It has a T9600 Core2Duo processor on board, and I fitted it myself with (oh drool!) 8GB RAM and 500GB hard drive @ 7200RPM (killer!)

Then I waited to get my hot little hands on Windows 7. I was in the beta program, so I got a "free key" to use when the beta ended.

Last Thursday night, I installed Windows 7, 64-Bit edition on my new monster laptop.

Before that, I had previously went to Lenovo's website and downloaded ANYTHING associated with the T500 + Vista. That is to say, since all Vista drivers are "upward" compatbile to Windows 7, having them "at the ready" seemed to be a good idea. I put them on an external USB disk.

My first 24 hours wasn't great. I installed Windows 7. I took all the updates. Then I installed all the T500 / Vista drivers. I rebooted when necessary. Finally, when I installed the video driver software, Windows 7 just hung and hung and hung and hung at the "Please wait" page.

Arrrgh. And this was AFTER I had already activated Windows 7 (Stupid, Stupid, Moskowitz.)

Well, I knew I could boot to Safe Mode and hack and slash my way out of this. But the more I thought about it.. why was I installing drivers for something that was, well, working already?

So I didn't.

I re-formatted and re-installed Windows 7. In my experience, more manufacturer software equals slower and more unstable machine. Said another way, if I can "get away with" the drivers that are included as part of Windows 7, I should have a faster and more stable system overall ... instead of having to know exactly WHICH drivers and in WHAT ORDER I should be installing them.

So that's what I did. I loaded Windows 7, I took all of Windows' updates (it had several driver updates for my system.) There were two devices Windows didn't have "built in drivers" for, and I did, indeed, install those from the Lenovo website. And that was it. I was done.

That being said, it wasn't totally a bed of roses.

This T500 system has this newfangled idea of having TWO video chips instead of just one. Let's call these two chips the "Good one" and the "Awesome one." Honestly, I don't ever, ever need the "Awesome one." I don't play games, so I don't need "awesomeness." "Awesome graphics" don't make my demos any faster, and honestly, that's all I care about for this machine.

This newfangled idea of two chips sounds great, but for me it just wasn't working perfectly with my total re-install. Every time I closed the lid and re-opened it, it thought my laptop display was "Display 2." All the stuff I was working on just disappeared.

You could say: "Well, Moskowitz, if you installed the drivers from Lenovo, you wouldn't be having this problem." Except, remember .. when I did install the drivers, that's exactly when the machine went into "mega hang" mode.

So, I needed a Plan B.

To fix this, I adjusted the T500's bios to say "Kill the Awesome chip. Only let me use the Good chip." And magically, all my troubles went away.

I'm sure, really, really sure, this is because I didn't choose to install Lenovo's "mega video driver" or something for the secondary video driver chips.

But I'm okay with that. I honestly need my laptop to do EXACTLY two things: display on the panel when I want to, and display outward on the VGA port for projecting when I want to.

Nothing fancy. So, no "awesome chip settings with crazy drivers" for me, thank you very much.

So, how is my overall experience with Windows 7 compared to Windows Vista? Well, my biggest problem with Windows Vista was that it was slow. Yes, lots of people complained about it being slow, but I tried to take an empirical approach and learn WHY my experience with Vista was slow.

For me, personally, I learned the "slow culprit" was the "Windows Search" service. On my previous laptop, the D620, where I tried to run Vista, every time I ran Filemon / Procmon, I could see it. Spinning it's wheels, doing it's thing -- ALL THE TIME and slowing me down.

As for Windows 7, I'm sad to say, that my initial experience is the same in this particular regard. Windows 7 still appears to (at least with my files) churn and churn and churn.

Maybe I haven't given it a fair shake. It's true, I didn't let it "settle in for three days" before getting frustrated and turning it off. I do have 60GB of "data" for it to pour over. So, in fairness, I'm going away next weekend, and I'm planning on turning ON the search service BEFORE I LEAVE, and see what happens when I return.

But for now, I have uninstalled the Windows 7 search feature, and you also (oddly) seem to need
to DISABLE the search service to really kill it (according to my Procmon traces.)

Here's the payoff though: Man, is this lappy fast! Right now, I'm really happy with the speed. Applications pop. Demos snap. Everything is like a crisp clean spring morning. Between a new processor, new OS, the 64-bits, 8GB of RAM and a 7200 RPM HD, darn tootin' this thing better fly.

Here are some miscellaneous notes about my first 7 days, in no particular order:

- I have a wacky wacky "Cannon" all-in-one printer, fax, scanner thing. And that driver was included in Windows 7. And, it even shows me the "ink levels" while printing; just like the driver I previously needed to download from Cannon then hand-install on XP. Neat.

- I'm pretty "keyboard centric." So about 1000 times a day, I type the following key sequence when working on XP: Ctl-Esc, R, cmd, enter. In XP, this would open the Start menu, R would hit the Run command, and CMD would get me to a command prompt. Now on Win 7, the same sequence makes NOTHING happen, because (even though I've put RUN back on the Start menu) there's no keyboard shortcut for 'R'un. gRRRR.

- I have ONE piece of hardware that, darn it, I cannot use, and man, I'm disappointed. It's a USB-connected phone system that's voice activated and hooks into Outlook. It just crashes every time it runs. Just flat out crashes. Can't really get to the bottom of this. If anyone else has this device, it's called ArialPhone, and I'd love to hear if it's working for anyone out there on Win 7 or even Vista. (PS: Even "XP compatibility mode" likely won't get me out of this one; unless I want to run a copy of Outlook *INSIDE* that fake XP machine, which I don't.)

- I have two other Outlook plug-ins which worked great on XP, but won't do their magic on Windows 7. Oddly, two *OTHER* Outlook plug-ins are working swimmingly. So, I don't know where the problem is. Still hacking on this one.

- The Beta for the App-V client 4.6 is out, and includes 64-bit support. Honestly, the thing seems ROCK SOLID to me, but my understanding is that it's planned to be Beta for a while before it goes gold. AppV Applications in cache seem to run WAY WAY faster than they did in AppV 4.5. It took me about an hour to convert all my existing 4.5 sequenced apps to 4.6.

- My wife walked behind me to see what I was working on. And it was my Windows 7 desktop. She saw the huge, huge icons that Windows 7 defaults with and asked "Are you in safe mode?" I can totally see her confusion, as Windows 7, in my opinion, looks totally bizzare with those big honkin' icons. The fix? While on the desktop, hold down Control and use the scroll wheel of your mouse to adjust. Kooky.

- Lots of people seem to be all "gaga" about the new taskbar. Honestly, I don't love the "mixed metaphor" of applications running and applications' icons all jumbled together. I've reset it act a little more like XP did, and I'm a little saner now.

But, all around, 95% of my applications are working. Everything that's "broken" seems to be revolved around Outlook in some way. Everything else is working great. So, I'm not sure if I can blame Windows or what here. Regardless, I'll get to the bottom of these and shake out my final bugs.

But in short, my first week -- pretty solid after getting thru the bumps. I do have that "last mile" to push through, and I'll keep you posted as things progress.