Heavy Update Traffic Complicates Fleet Management

Wow! It’s been quite a week here at Chez Tittel. It never fails but when I get busy with paying work, the frequency of and/or workload in handling Windows updates goes up, too. Including a loaner unit, I have 11 PCs to take care of right now. And this week has seen a Preview CU for production Windows 10, a release for 21H2 Windows 10, and various updates and upgrades for Windows 11 Insider Previews in all 3 channels (Release Preview, Beta and Dev). Hence my summary, that heavy update traffic complicates fleet management.

When Heavy Update Traffic Complicates Fleet Management, Get Busy!

As I check update history on my PCs, I see one or more items this week on all of them. Around here that’s about as busy as things can get. Fortunately, except for a firmware update issue on a loaner PC — which has nothing to do with MS updates AFAIK — it’s all been pretty routine and trouble-free. All it takes is paying attention and a little time.

I also use a couple of tools to keep up with applications and suchlike as well. PatchMyPC is a free updating tool that keeps up with most of my stuff. SUMo (Software Update Monitor) Lite is a free scanning tool that tells me what else I need to update (but leaves me on my own to get that done). I try to run these once a week, or as time permits. Lately, there hasn’t been much free time to spend on updates, but it’s getting done now, as I think of it.

The “Clean-as-you-Go” Principle

In keeping up with my PCs, I try to do a little bit every time I use them, so I don’t have to deep clean at longer intervals. A little bit of clean-up and update on an ongoing basis works better for me as a maintenance regime that periodic, scheduled (but longer) update/clean-up sessions.

Here in Windows-World, you can pick whichever regime makes most sense for you. I’ve got my routine and I’m sticking to it!

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Win10 Rollback Works But Thunderbolt Issues Continue

Big Sigh. I’ve been trying to get the Thunderbolt 4 firmware updated on the snazzy new Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 9 they sent me, but to no avail. Today, I observed that Win10 rollback works but Thunderbolt issues continue. Something gets weird when the PC reboots to do the firmware install. I see a short (and tiny) error message long enough to know it’s there, but definitely not long enough to read it, or interpret its significance.

When Win10 Rollback Works But Thunderbolt Issues Continue, Then What?

First, the good news. I elected to roll back my Windows 11 update on this machine and it not only went well, it finished in under 3 minutes. That’s amazing! It also confirmed that the Windows.old snapshot is of whatever vintage and state the OS was at the time of upgrade. All my account stuff remained clear and workable, thank goodness.

Now, the bad news. I remain unable to complete the firmware update successfully. That means Thunderbolt sees no devices on either of the PC’s two USB-C/Thunderbolt 4 ports. Bummer! It also means I’m sending this fish back to the pond (Lenovo, that is) with a request to return it when THEY can fix this driver issue. For me, Thunderbolt 4 is a big deal. I don’t think I can review this system without a working and capable Thunderbolt 4 connection for me to test performance, throughput, and so forth.

That said, the USB-3 Type A port is remarkably fast. I get better performance out of my old, tired mSATA drives on this machine (Samsung EVO SSDs in Sabrent mSATA enclosures) than I’ve ever seen before.

Do All Things Come to He Who Waits?

I guess I’ll be finding out. Tomorrow, I’ll fire off an email to the reviews coordinator, explain my situation, and let them know I’m sending the laptop back. It will be absolutely fascinating to see how they respond. I’m hopeful I’ll get a fixed (or replacement) laptop soon. If and when I do, I’ll start posting madly about what I see and learn. Right now, I just can’t go forward with a major subsystem on the fritz. Hope that makes sense…

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MS Streamlines Windows 11 Update Handling

MS tracks and delivers changes (and reverse operations) to OS images using “forward and reverse differentials.” This started in Windows 10, Version 1809. Now, MS adds slick optimization that reduces repeat references to objects and instructions. Thus, MS streamlines Windows 11 update handling further. It’s all explained in an October 12 Microsoft Windows IT Pro blog post. That post is entitled “How Microsoft reduced Windows 11 update size by 40%.” It explains how MS further reduced update volume without boosting installation time.

How MS Streamlines Windows 11 Update Handling

In the afore-linked blog post, MS explains its objectives as “reducing the size of Windows 11 updates.” At the same time, the company sought to:

  • decrease size of network downloads for updates
  • keep install times unchanged (not slowed)
  • keep updates compatible with all distribution channels (e.g. WU, WSUS, SCCM, InTune/AutoPilot and so forth). Thus, IT pros need make no config changes.

According to the blog post, “since Windows 10, version 1809, …servicing has used paired forward and reverse differential compression.” What MS did, at a high level, with Windows 11 was to add a catalog to remap virtual addresses when function addresses or other relative references change. This replaces forward and reverse differentials for such addresses with (much shorter) lookup table references.

Such operations are easy to reverse, too. These might be required if an update fails prior to completion. This returns the OS image to a known, working stable state. OTOH, it might be required if the user decides to uninstall or roll back an update.

MS’s analyses show that this new approach provides a “40% reduction in update size.” This means not just smaller updates, but less overall consumption of network bandwidth to transport updates. For software with millions (Windows 11) to billions (Windows 10) of users, this is a big deal. No wonder MS is working to patent this technology…

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Windows 11 ADK Is Now Available

If you know where to look, the Windows Assessment and Deployment Kit (ADK) is now out for Windows 11. Indeed, you can find it in MS Docs at Download and install the Windows ADK. That’s why I assert that the Windows 11 ADK is now available in this item’s title. What does this buy you and your organization? I’ll explain…

If Windows 11 ADK Is Now Available, Then What?

The ADK includes collection of potentially useful and valuable tools designed for at-scale Windows deployments. These include access to:

  • WinPE, the Windows Preinstallation Environment that provides runtime support before an OS has loaded. It’s used to support Windows installation and also provides the foundation for WinRE (Windows Recovery Environment). Basically, it’s a stripped-down and self-supporting portable version of Windows (11 in this case). Note: WinPE is a separate add-on to download and install after installing the ADK.
  • Volume Activation Management Tool (VAMT): works with Windows Office and other Microsoft products for volume and retail activation using Multiple Activation Keys (MAKs) or the Windows Key Management Service (KMS). Works as an MMC snap-in with the Microsoft Management Console (MMC).
  • User State Migration Tool (USMT) delivers a customizable user-profile migration capability that can capture user settings for Microsoft office versions 2003, 2007, 2010, and 2013 (separate tool for 2016 also available). The tool covers a broad range of migration scenarios (described here).
  • App-V (Application Virtualization) is still supported, but MS calls out EOL for April 2026, and now recommends using Azure Virtual Desktop with MSIX app attach instead.

From a different perspective, the ADK includes support to assess, plan for and execute large-scale Windows deployments. Assessment comes from the Windows Assessment and Windows Performance toolkits. Deployment tools include WinPE, Sysprep, and other items that can customize and distribute Windows images.

It’s Early in the Lifecycle…

Organizations are mostly still considering Windows 11 deployments, though some pilots are underway. Grab yourself a copy of the new ADK and you can get to know it, as your organization starts pondering and investigating its Windows 11 options and timetables. Cheers!

 

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Clean Install Still Cuts Gordian Knot

The old, old story of the Gordian knot traces back over 2 millennia. It’s meant to illustrate that difficult problems may be overcome by a variety of means. Usually, as with the original story itself, some of them are drastic. When unable to untie the knot, Alexander the Great drew his sword and cut it through instead. He lost the rope, but solved the problem. And so it is with some Windows problems, where a clean install still cuts gordian knot issues that other repairs cannot address.

If Clean Install Still Cuts Gordian Knot, What Made it Necessary This Time?

I’ve been helping a friend over the past two weekends try to solve an iCloud to Outlook synchronization problem. To his credit, he put in two lengthy calls with MS Support, and performed an in-place upgrade repair install. His primary symptoms were:

1. Unable to download iCloud from the MS Store
2. If installed manually, unable to get iCloud and Outlook to synchronize. Interesting but weird error messages about “no default Outlook profile” suggested possible fixes, but none of those worked.

After attempting numerous manual repairs and tricks last weekend without success, I showed up this weekend planning to perform a clean install on his wife’s laptop, a Dell Latitude 7155 (i5, 4th gen Intel CPU). It took me somewhat longer to get the disk cleaned up and a pristine image laid down on her NVMe SSD than I had thought it would.

But once a clean Windows 10 image was installed and updates applied, I was able to download iCloud from the Store. Next, I revisited office.microsoft.com and re-installed Office 365. The acid test followed immediately thereafter: I attempted to synch with iCloud for messages, contacts, and other Outlook items.

To nobody’s particular surprise, it worked. But gosh, it sure took a while to get everything ready (Macrium Reflect came in hand indeed). And it took longer to install and update the OS image than I was expecting. But in the end, the outcome was as desired. So far, we’ve put about 7 hours into this repair effort. Alas, it’s still not quite done just yet.

One More Thing…

I mounted the Macrium backup to make it available for copying older files to the rebuilt desktop. But because of permissions problems I wasn’t able to access some key stuff. So, I’m going back in one more time to fix those and grab the additional stuff my friend needs. Hopefully, that will be as routine as I anticipate. In the meantime, I’m boning up on the ICACLS command so I can reset permissions wholesale, and make everything one might need from the backup available in one go.

At the end of the day, it’s nice to know the tried-and-true methods work like they’re supposed to. I can only guess that some vital plumbing between the Outlook and iCloud APIs got munged in the old runtime environment. By creating a new, pristine one, we have apparently fixed what was broken. Old school still rules. Good-oh!

 

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Why Is Windows 7 Still Running on 1 of 5 PCs Worldwide?

The mind reels. I just checked the Operating system market share by version stats at NetMarketShare.com. To my outright astonishment, 20.93% of PCs worldwide still run Windows 7. By contrast, Windows 10 has a 62.16% share and MacOS 6.21% (the numbers in the figure only run through September; these are for October). Thus, I have to ask: “Why Is Windows 7 Still Running on 1 of 5 PCs Worldwide?”

Answering Why Is Windows 7 Still Running on 1 of 5 PCs Worldwide?

In a piece from Microsoft Story Labs with a 2018 copyright date, the company claims “there are more than 1.3B devices running Windows 10.” If that represents 62.16% of the number of PCs running globally, that means that 437 million PCs could be running Windows 7.  (I know: I’m making assumptions willy-nilly, but this is a strawperson argument anyway.) That said, both The Verge and ZDNet reported in January 2021 that there could be somewhere over 100 million (Verge) and under 200 million (ZDNet) Windows 7 PCs still in use. Whatever that real number may be, my question is: “Why?”

Windows 7 hit EOL in January 2020. Microsoft does offer annual Extended Security Updates (ESU) for such machines, but that costs US$62 per license as of January 2021. Nobody knows for sure how many PCs are under ESU coverage (MS doesn’t disclose those numbers). But I’d be surprised if more than 20 million PCs were under contract.

What does that mean for the other 80 to 180 million Windows 7 PCs still in use? Big security exposure, and the onus for support on their owners. To me, this falls under the heading of “unacceptable risk.”

Again: Why Keep on with Windows 7?

Surely, the biggest answers have to be:

1. Inertia/laziness: Owners (individuals and businesses) don’t want to change.
2. Budget constraints/parsimony: Owners don’t want to spend the money (or time and effort) required for migration and possibly also, hardware refresh
3. Legacy app tie-downs: Businesses running custom apps based on Windows 7 don’t want to port or rewrite the code for newer Windows versions.

I understand these reasons, but I don’t understand that users and companies/organizations are willing to take big security risks as a consequence. I am flabbergasted that the curve showing in the lead-in graphic is declining so slowly. 5% in 10 months translates into 6% annually. That means that assuming the rate of decline remains constant, Windows 7 will remain in use for another 3 years and then some. All I can say is: Mind completely blown!

What could — and probably will — change this leisurely decline is some major security exploit that’s sure to come along. When owners must face clear, immediate and present danger of financial loss or legal liability they’ll get on the stick and start migrating faster. In the meantime, inertia continues to rule. Amazing!

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Start11 Gets v0.9 Update

Some running Windows 11 who might want an alternative to the native Start Menu. For those folks, Stardock’s latest Start11 release offers a nice option. Please understand this is NOT free software. Those upgrading a Start10 license must pay US$4 for the bits; first-time buyers must pony up US$5. Either way, it’s a pretty good deal IMO. As a long-time user, when Start 11 gets v0.9 update, I pay attention. Others may not be so inclined.

When  Start 11 gets v0.9 update, What Do You Get?

Start11 gives users a pretty broad range of functions for a small price. It allows them to make the Start Menu look like the ones from Windows 7, 8 or 10 (and of course, 11 as well). Here’s the UI “pick a version/layout” control:

Start11 Gets v0.9 Update.sm-style

You can pick from Windows 7, 8 (Modern style), 10, and 11 styles for the Start Menu layout, look, and feel.

You can pick an icon for the start button, and position the start button at left or center in the taskbar (or even up top). As for the taskbar itself, Start 11 offers a number of controls, including blur, transparency and color; the ability to apply a custom texture; right-click menu controls (which bring back the old Windows 10 style right-click pop up), and a bunch of tweaks for taskbar size and position, plus separate positioning controls for primary and secondary monitors. I like it, myself.

Search can be tweaked in a variety of ways, including disabling built-in search. Search result filtering can use icons, search can peruse file contents and well as names, and more.

Alternate Menus Appeal to Some

I know plenty of purists who want to use only native. built-in Windows controls and utilities. I am not such a person. If you are, Start11 will have no appeal to you. But if you’ve got users who want to be productive right away and already know their way around an earlier Windows version, Start11 can be a real blessing.

Right now, I’m running one machine with native facilities only, another with Start10 on Windows 11 (it works), and this one with Start11 set to run in modern layout mode. I’m watching for issues and gotchas, and will keep readers posted. I’m glad I feel comfortable getting around Windows11 using a variety of menuing tools and techniques. I remember being baffled, bothered and bewildered when Windows 8 first came out. Thank goodness, that’s no longer an issue.

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Brand-new AMD PC Gets No Windows 11 Love

OK, then. I’m  a little puzzled. Last month, I upgraded one of my desktops to a rockin’ configuration. I did this specifically to prepare for yesterday’s Windows 11 GA date. That PC includes an AMD Ryzen 7 5800X, 64 GB RAM, and more. It completely meets the Windows 11 requirements (and PC Health Check agrees with my assessment). But this machine gets nothing like the “Great news” item that appears on my X380 Yoga (see lead-in graphic). That’s right: my brand-new AMD PC gets no Windows 11 love from WU.

If Brand-new AMD PC Gets No Windows 11 Love, Now What?

Because I purpose built the machine for Windows 11, I could use the ISO I grabbed from MS yesterday. I’d mount that image, then run setup.exe to perform an in-place upgrade install instead. I wrote on Monday that it can take a while for machines to get the WU offer at Microsoft’s discretion. Little did I know that my new AMD PC (less than a month old) would fall outside that limit. Go figure!

I have to laugh. It’s always been a bit of a mystery as to how MS opens up availability during a “gradual rollout.” Ditto for the criteria it uses to gradually extend that availability to an ever-increasing population of PCs over time. I expected that new stuff would meet those criteria sooner rather than later. My expectations have been dashed, but I don’t take that personally.  I just need to decide what to do.

Upgrade Now Vs. Upgrade Later?

Because there’s no compelling reason for that AMD PC to run Windows 11, I’m tempted to wait and see how long it takes to get an offer from WU. As I observed in my Monday post, “The first machines to get an upgrade offer will be those for which telemetry shows no upgrade problems.” I’ve heard from plenty of AMD owners over at Elevenforum that they’ve successfully installed Windows 11 on such PCs. That includes builds with 5800X CPUs, just like mine.

Thus, it comes down to patience and curiosity. I’ll try to hold onto the former so I can further exercise the latter. But if history is any guide, I probably won’t last much past Halloween before I hitch that machine to the Windows 11 star. Stay tuned: I’ll keep you posted.

News of Performance Issues Say: “Later”

Just this morning a number of stories about Windows 11 performance issues on AMD CPUs have surfaced. See, for example this NeoWin item “AMD processors hit by performance issues…” Or this OnMSFT story “AMD acknowledges Windows 11 performance issues…” Looks like the “lack of love” comes out of genuine concerns for less-than-positive outcomes. I bet my status changes after the promised and forthcoming AMD performance patch is out. We’ll see!

 

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Windows 11 GA Follies Underway

OK, then. I learned something new and interesting yesterday. Thanks to Mary Jo Foley at ZDNet, I now know that October 5 really started at 4 PM Eastern (US) the day before. That meant I was able to try out two new facilities late in the day, as Microsoft got the Windows 11 GA follies underway in earnest. Let me explain…

What Does Windows 11 GA Follies Underway Mean?

GA stands for “General Availability” and represents the timeline entry for an OS release at which point anyone can access it. If they have a legit Windows 10 license they can upgrade to it. They can also now access numerous Windows 11 specific tools through the Download Windows 11 page, including:

  • The Windows 11 Installation Assistant (for upgrading the machine you’re using)
  • The Windows 11 Media Creation Tool (for creating a bootable UFD or DVD)
  • Download Windows 11 Disk Image (ISO) to obtain a mountable multi-image ISO for planned installation or image customization

I’ve already done all of those things, though I haven’t yet used the UFD I built, or put the downloaded ISO to work. Here’s a brief recitation of what happened.

Item 1: Installation Assistant

My first GA upgrade target was my trusty Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme laptop (8th-gen Intel CPU, 16 GB RAM, 1 TB NVMe SSD, TPM 2.0 and Secure Boot enabled). I’d already made sure it met Windows 11 requirements, but I did hit a snag during installation.

I had Start10 installed on this PC. And when the Installation Assistant got about 80% through with the installation part, it stopped and told me I had to uninstall Start10 before it could proceed. Because uninstalling Start10 itself requires a restart, I knew this meant I had to clear this out and then start over. So that’s what I did.

To my surprise, the Installation Assistant kept the install files so I didn’t have to download them again. This short-circuited the process by a good five minutes. But the second try at install took quite a while to complete — nearly 40 minutes by my clock. My advice to readers: if you’re running a start menu replacement program, uninstall it before you begin the upgrade process. In the long run it will save on time and aggravation.

Item 2: MCT Revisited

The new version of the MCT is named MediaCreationToolW11.exe. At 9,532KB in size (as reported in Explorer) it’s a pretty quick download. I like it that MS is labeling MCTs with the version of Windows they’ll grab for you. Makes them much easier to tell apart. In fact, I usually label them when I download them anyway for that very purpose. Glad to see MS beating me to the punch here.

Just for grins I went through the UFD drill with an older 8 GB UFD I had sitting around. The download part took less than a minute to complete (I have a fast Internet connection, fortunately). Building the on-media image took a little bit longer: a bit under five minutes on a 2016 vintage Patriot Blitz 8GB UFD device. It got renamed to ESD-UDB during the build process (which reflects MS use of the compressed version of WIM for speedier download/smaller disk footprint). Total disk space consumed: 4.16 GB.

Item 3: ISO Download

Because I’m a huge Ventoy fan (and regular user) this method gets me images for all kinds of uses (install, repair, troubleshooting and so forth). That’s why I don’t mess around with bootable UFD devices anymore. MS advertises, and DISM confirms, that this is a multi-part ISO image (7 parts, in fact, as shown in the following screencap):

Windows 11 GA Follies Underway.dism-scan

7 total images, each with its own index, in the official Win11 ISO
[Click image for full-sized view.]

So Far, So Good. What’s Next?

I have now force-upgraded the X1 Extreme (and then installed Start 11, which is supposed to get a major update in a couple of days). I plan to update my wife’s Dell 7080 Micro with its 11th-gen CPU today or tomorrow. I’m going to wait on WU for other Windows 11 ready machines to see when the get “the offer.” Stay tuned: I’ll keep you posted as the rollout proceeds. So far, though, it’s been pretty easy and straightforward. Except for the Start 10 surprise in fact, it’s been smooth as glass.

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Windows 11: Revisiting Microsoft Gradual Rollouts

As I write this item on the morning of October 4, I’m sure I’m not the only person anticipating tomorrow’s General Availability release for the lastest Windows version. But with the approaching October 5 onset of Windows 11: Revisiting Microsoft Gradual Rollouts should help readers properly craft their expectations.

For Windows 11: Revisiting Microsoft Gradual Rollouts Sets the Stage

The watchwords here are “gradual rollouts.” This means that MS will start the release of Windows 11 with a trickle. The first machines to get an upgrade offer will be those for which telemetry shows no upgrade problems. That trickle will gradually increase over time as known problems get solved.

Another source of upgradability comes from so-called “seekers.” Seekers are those who grab upgrades via download without waiting for an offer from WU. Their telemetry will also show other machines that offer reasonable expectations of a positive upgrade experience. They, too, will start to get offers.

How Long to Get from Trickle to Flood?

If recent Windows 10 version upgrades are any indicator, it can take six months to a year before the gradual rollout switches over to wholesale access. It’s truly a data-driven exercise, in which telemetry provides the input to steer users into a new version “at the right time.”

My own track record is one of less patience, more WTF. I’ve tried to let WU dictate the pacing of upgrade offers for previous version. But I’ve not once been able to let WU drive upgrades for all six or seven of my production machines. These are the ones that run the current version of Windows 10, whatever it may be. Of that half-dozen, at least 5 meet Windows 11 requirements and will get the offer at some time or another.

Once again, I will wait awhile to see when that offer might come. It might take MS more than a month to extend it to my newest PCs (11th gen Intel and Ryzen 5800X CPUs). If so, I’ll do an ISO-based install from setup.exe soon thereafter. I’m just not that relaxed about making the 10-to-11 transition, I guess…

Stay tuned: I’ll keep you posted.

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