Category Archives: Insider stuff

21H1 Attains Commercial Pre-Release Validation

A recent Windows IT Pro Blog post title reads “Windows 10, version 21H1 for commercial pre-release validation.” That means that users can update selected PCs to 21H1 using the enablement package to see what it’s like. The post raises interesting questions. “Do you want to see how quickly devices update from version 2004 or 20H2 to 21H1, and how little downtime is involved? Now you can!” And that dear readers is what 21H1 attains commercial pre-release validation means. Simply put: Check it out!

What If 21H1 Attains Commercial Pre-Release Validation?

The fine print reveals it’s still necessary that “select PCs” enroll in the Insider Preview program to partake of 21H1. Indeed, MS announced on February 17 the enablement package would go to Beta Channel Insiders. I’ve been running it on my Surface Pro 3 since then, to very good effect. The whole thing took under 5 minutes on that 2014-vintage PC (i7-4650U CPU, 8 GB RAM, Samsung 256 GB OEM mSATA SSD) from initial download, through installation, and back to the desktop. It ought to go faster on newer, more capable hardware.

Another Harbinger of GA

Of course, GA stands for “General Availability.” That’s when MS starts public release of a new Windows 10 version through official channels. If “commercial pre-release” is happening now, GA won’t be too far behind. This hasn’t always been part of the MS release sequence, but it is a definite signal that 21H1 is coming soon. In fact, I think it’s bound to appear within the next 30 days. I’m guessing Patch Tuesday, April 13 or somewhere thereabouts, is quite likely.

Typically, business users tend to follow one or two versions behind the leading edge. So perhaps this is really a signal they should be planning upgrades to 2004 (on the trailing edge) or 20H2 (on the leading one)? As with so much else on the Internet, things vary wildly from one organization to the next. I still keep seeing the screens at my optometrist’s office, with the Windows 7 lock screen on cheerful display…


Interesting Partial 21H1 Component Store Cleanup

I’m running the Beta Channel Insider Preview on my Surface Pro 3. I just bumped it to Build 19043.899 thanks to KB5000842. Out of curiosity, I then ran the DISM commands to analyze and clean up the component store as shown in the lead-in graphic for this story. A final analyze shows interesting partial 21H1 component store cleanup occurred. Let me explain…

What Does Interesting Partial 21H1 Component Store Cleanup Mean?

If you take a look at some detail from the lead-in graphic then check the screencap below, you’ll see they show 7 reclaimable packages before clean-up. After cleanup, 2 reclaimable packages still remain behind.

Notice that 2 reclaimable packages persist, event after running the cleanup option.

Reclaimable packages persist after dism cleanup for one of two reasons AFAIK:
1. At some point, the user ran the /resetbase parameter in an earlier dism cleanup.
2. Something odd or interesting is going on in the component store, and dism can’t clean up one or more packages (in this case, two).

I don’t use /resetbase on test machines as a matter of principle. So something interesting and odd is going on here.

Another Try Produces No Change

Having seen this before on other Insider Previews (and production Windows 10 versions), I had an inkling of what would happen. I repeated the cleanup and got the same results: 2 reclaimable packages still show. In my experience, this means they’re “stuck” in the component store. What I don’t know is if taking the image offline and trying again would make any difference. What I do know is that this won’t change until Microsoft finalizes the 21H1 release for general availability (or issues a specifically targeted fix).

Trading on my connections with the Insider Team at MS, I’ll be letting them know about this curious phenomenon. We’ll see if anything changes as a result. My best guess is that this gets a cleanup as part of the final release work sometime in the next 2-3 weeks. That said, only time will tell. Stay tuned!


Insider Preview 19043 ISO Download Available

IMO, it’s always a good idea to have ISO files for Window 10 images available. That’s why I jumped on a chance to download the ISO file for Build 19043 from the Windows Insider Preview Downloads page. The 64-bit version of the file is 5,330,642 KB in size. On my GbE (nominal: actual around 940 Mbps) Internet link, it took about 5 minutes to download. Given Insider Preview 19043 ISO download available, you might want to grab one, too.

When Insider Preview 19043 ISO Download Available, Get one!

To access this page — and get the download — you must provide a valid Windows Insider MS account. Use it to login to the page. Once validated, navigate to the “Select Edition” heading, then choose the version of 19043 you wish to download. For the vast majority of readers, that will be the 64-bit edition.

In fact, according to PassMark Software’s latest (March 11) OS Marketshare survey, 0.45% of users run Windows 10 32-bit and 96.34% of users run 64-bit. That means 45 users in 10,000 run 32-bit whereas 9,634 of the rest run 64-bit. That is a vast majority, indeed!

More About the 19043 ISO

Interestingly, the 19043 ISO is 5,330, 642 KB (5.083 GB) in size. That means it’s too big to reside in a single FAT32 file (max size: 4 GB). To my mind, that makes for another good argument to use Ventoy (which puts ISOs into an NFTS volume) instead of having to split a too-big ISO into multiple parts to store on a bootable FAT32 partition.

I just checked, and a new Ventoy release appeared on March 6. Thus, I took the opportunity to upgrade my 256 GB Ventoy drive. I just copied this new ISO to it, too. It’s now sharing that space with 27 other Windows 10 (and other) ISO files. Good stuff!

Here’s a shout-out to Sergey Tkachenko at, who brought the ISO’s availability and location to my attention.


Might Wonky WU Presage Hardware Obsolescence

OK, then. Here’s an interesting story. After updating my 2012 vintage Lenovo X220 Tablet to Build 21327.1010 the Windows Update (WU) UI starting misbehaving. I’ve reported it to the Feedback Hub, with a screen recording to show what happens. This experience has me asking myself: might wonky WU presage hardware obsolescence?

Why Might Wonky WU Presage Hardware Obsolescence?

Built in 2012 and purchased in 2013 for a book on Windows 8, this system runs a Sandy Bridge CPU. It’s so old, it doesn’t support USB 3.0 natively (though I do have a plug-in Express Card that adds such capability). Simply put, the whole situation has me wondering if this old laptop is finally aging out of usefulness. I retired the companion system — a same vintage, same CPU T420 laptop — late last year because it was flaking out too often for everyday testing. Until this happened, the X220 Tablet remained a paragon of Windows support.

Here’s a short video (24 seconds) that shows very little, but enough for me to describe what’s wonky.

Normally, when you click the “Check for updates” button, the display changes to “Checking for updates” while the activity balls flow from left to right (and repeat until the check is complete). Next, if updates are available, the display reads “Updates available” while it installs them. When it’s done the display changes to “You’re up to date” with a timestamp to match. That final status info serves as the lead-in graphic for this story, in fact.

What Did Wonky WU Do Instead?

As you can see by playing the video, none of those display changes occur. I know the update is working because it grabbed and installed a Defender update when I tried it for the first time and that update shows under “Definition Updates” in Update History. That said, the usual animations (or status changes) that show WU is working are invisible on this PC. All that stuff works fine on my 2018 vintage Lenovo ThinkPad X380 Yoga (which has a Kaby Lake/7th Gen CPU).

Having reported the issue to MS via Feedback Hub, all I can do now is wait to see if it gets fixed. If it becomes a “new normal,” I may need to start retirement planning for my hitherto unflappable and unshakeable X220 Tablet. Sigh. That’s the way things go sometimes, here in Windows-World.

Note Added March 11, 2021

With the upgrade to Dev Channel Build 21332.1000, WU returned to “normal behavior.” But I did have to return to Advanced Sharing Settings/All Networks in the Network and Sharing Center. There, I had to turn off password protected sharing and turn on Public folder sharing. After a reboot,  RDP into the X220 Tablet worked again. This has been an on-again/off-again issue on this laptop for years. (A) it’s easily fixed locally, and (B) it seems to be a low-priority item for MS.

Finalley here’s a shout-out to Eddie Leonard (@DJ+EddieL). He told me the WU item was a known problem and would be fixed with the next build. He was spot-on, and I’m grateful.


Key Terms EKB 21h1 Reveal Next Win10 Release Coming Closer

I have to hand it to the team at Bleeping Computer, especially Lawrence Abrams. He’s done a neat and convincing bit of filesystem forensics. It shows that recent Beta Channel updates set the stage for the upcoming 21H1 Windows 10 release. In fact, he shows that key terms EKB 21h1 reveal next Win10 release coming closer to fruition. That inspired the File Explorer screencap for this story’s lead-in graphic.

Finding Key Terms EKB 21h1 Reveal Next Win10 Release Coming Closer

The string “21H1” (or “21h1” as it mostly appears in filenames) stands for the next upcoming Windows 10 release. EKB, as I learned, is the MS abbreviation for enablement package. This is a pre-staging technique for minor Windows 10 upgrades. It actually relies on updates installed prior to the official enablement of the “next upgrade” (21H1 in this case) that simply get turned on. And indeed, it’s the enablement package (EKB) that does the turning on bit.

The names of the files shown in the lead-in graphic reside in the
folder on Windows PCs running the Insider Preview Beta Channel release. To find these files, the Beta Channel image must be at Build 1904*.789 or higher. As it happens, I took the lead-in screencap on a PC running Build 19042.844

Terms of interest in the list involve:

  • Windows UpdateTargeting
  • Windows Product Data
  • EKB Package
  • EKB Wrapper Package

All of these terms identify current and upcoming versions of Windows 10, including the current version and build and its status, and the contents and handling of any current or upcoming enablement package (EKB). Most discussion I read about dates for 21H1 still suggest “May or June” as the GA date for this upcoming and minor Windows 10 feature upgrade. I see no reason to disagree with those assessments. And indeed Microsoft’s own 21H1 announcement post  doesn’t say much more than only minor changes to Windows 10 will show up when the release goes public.

We’ll just have to wait and see when 21H1 gets the nod from the Insider Team, and makes a public debut through Windows Update. Whenever that happens, though, it’s pretty clear that 21H2 is when the big changes for this year will hit Windows 10. Stay tuned!




New Windows Admin Center Makes Ignite Debut

The always-popular Windows Server management tool gets an update to version 2103 just in time for Ignite 2021. In fact, you can download yourself a new copy right away from Akamai: But why should you care that a new Windows Admin Center makes Ignite debut? Keep reading, and I’ll give some reasons…

Who Cares if New Windows Admin Center Makes Ignite Debut

If you work in or around Windows environments as an admin, you should! Happily, the list of updates and enhancements to WAC (Windows Admin Center) underscores this:

  • The tool now supports IoT Edge for Linux on Windows.
  • WAC is available in preview as an Azure-based portal application.
  • Indeed, the tool itself now handles in-app updates, so it can update itself automatically, and do likewise add-ins and third-party extensions
  • Gateway proxy support is now enabled in the tool’s Proxy tab
  • Privacy settings are now easily accessible in the Diagnostic & Feedback tab (users can limit what is sent to MS)
  • Different tools within WAC can appear in individual pop-out windows.
  • Events have been substantially reworked and shows that MS is spending some development cycles on the Event Viewer. (Currently, an incomplete, preview version is available: curious users must enable/disable this facility using a UI toggle in WAC).
  • The VM tool is expanded and enhanced to boost integration services, provide editable columns and groups, and gets a new ability to edit virtual switches when making VM moves.
  • The Azure Stack HCI gets some updates, too.  Most notably,  for cluster deployment and for OEM snap-ins to let IT pros deploy and use 3rd-party extensions more quickly and easily.
  • Partners are jumping on the WAC bandwagon. These include Dell EMC OpenManager (v2.0), Lenovo XClarity Integrator, and Data ON Must Pro, among others. Indeed, this promises to be an active aftermarket.

In other words, there’s a lot of new stuff showing up in WAC. Those who already use the tool will find a lot to like. Those just getting to know the tool will find a lot to learn and understand.

WAC Resources

Video: What’s New in WAC 2103 (from Ignite)
Announcement: WAC 2103 Now Generally Available (the announcement is laden with links to more video, documentation, and training materials).
MS Docs: Windows Admin Center Overview

Actually, there’s plenty of helpful stuff on WAC online for admins. To be sure, it’s an embarrassment of riches. Still need convincing? Run this Google Search: Windows Admin Center.


MS Ignite 2021 Sparks Changes Galore

There’s all kinds of incredible news and information flowing like a river from the ongoing Microsoft Ignite 2021 virtual conference. In fact, it’s underway right now. Even better,  online registration is free. Use the URL, where you can register or view a complete list of sessions. If you can’t attend real-time, many/most sessions will be recorded. Thus, you can  view them later on.  That said, registration is required to attend.

How Is It That MS Ignite 2021 Sparks Changes Galore?

A quick view of the Ignite Session catalog shows 384 sessions spread over its planned three-day schedule. To begin: today, March 2, is day 1. Next, tomorrow, March 3, and Thursday, March 4, are days 2 and 3.

As I write this, Satya Nadella and Alex Kipman are delivering the keynote. Also, today’s session topics include “the hybrid workplace,” in which WFH combines with access to cloud-based services and resources. Further on today’s docket: security, edge AI solutions, Azure-based enterprise solutions, and more.

For sure, those who who dig through the session catalog will find something for every interest. IMO, Ignite has spread its net widely this year. It should appeal to professionals of all kinds. Certainly, Ignite is well-known as a developer conference. But in 2021, Ignite appeals to IT across the board, including architects, operations types, and service and support pros. Shoot! Business stakeholders with interests in ROI technology boosts will also find plenty of interest here, too.

What’s at Ignite 2021 for YOU?

You can’t know until you take a look. That means opening up the session catalog, and browsing its contents. To spur your interest, here’s a peek at the top of page 2:

MS Ignite 2021 Sparks Changes Galore

A quick peek at Page 2 of the Session catalog shows sessions on Azure at work, developer innovation, speculations on mixed reality, and a wide-ranging Q&A with security experts.
[Click image for full-sized view.]

As the old saying about the lottery goes: “You can’t win if you don’t play.” For Ignite 2021, that means you can’t appreciate its wealth of offerings and learning opportunities unless you register, and dig in. Enjoy!



Post Dev Channel Upgrade Drill

As somebody who’s been in the Insider Program for Windows 10 since October, 2014, I’ve been through hundreds of Insider Preview installations and upgrades. That means I have a pretty well-defined drill through which I take my test PCs once an upgrade is in place. In today’s item, I’ll take you through my Post Dev Channel Upgrade drill as an illustration. That’s because I just finished upgrading to Build 21318.1000, released Friday February 19.

High-level View: Post Dev Channel Upgrade Drill

Viewed at a high level, those post Dev Channel upgrade steps might be described as follows:

    1. Check the environment, restore tweaks, make repairs
    2. Clean up post-upgrade leftovers, esp. Windows.old
    3. Perform other routine cleanups
    4. Check for and install software updates (non-Windows)
    5. Use Macrium Reflect to make a pristine image backup

In general, the idea is to make sure things are working, clean up anything left behind, catch apps and applications up with Windows, and make a snapshot to restore as this release baseline, if needed.

Step 1: Check & Restore or Repair Anything Out of Whack

YMMV tremendously during this activity. After many upgrades, I’ve jumped into File Explorer Options (Control Panel) to make file extensions visible again, show hidden files, and so forth. MS is doing a better job with this lately, and I don’t usually have to do this with Insider Preview upgrades (though it does still happen for standard feature upgrades).

For a long, long time I had to go into Advanced File Sharing to loosen “Guest or Public” and “All Network” network profiles on the Lenovo X220 Tablet to get RDP to work. Because I use RDP from my production desktop to access and work on my arsenal of test PCs, this is pretty important — to me, anyway. The last few Dev Channel releases have NOT had this problem, I’m happy to say.

I run Helmut Buhler’s excellent 8 Gadget Pack on my Windows 10 PCs. That’s because its CPU Usage and Network Meter gadgets provide helpful dashboards. The former is good for CPU and memory usage and system temps; the latter is great at showing network activity and base addressing info. Very handy. But each time an upgrade is installed, Windows 10 boots it off the desktop. Buhler has written a handy “Repair” utility that I run after each upgrade to put everything back the way it was.

Step 2: Clean up post-upgrade leftovers

You can use the built-in Disk Cleanup utility, run as admin, to take care of most of this. I personally prefer Albacore/TheBookIsClosed’s Managed Disk Cleanup (available free from GitHub). Why? Because he tweaked the UI so you can see all active controls in a single display window, and select all the stuff you want gone in a single pass. Here’s what that looks like to make it visually obvious why I prefer this tool:

Post Dev Channel Upgrade Drill.mdiskclean.exe

Notice you can see ALL options eligible for selective clean-up in a single display area in Managed Disk Cleanup. I like it!

Step 3: Perform other routine cleanups

I still use Josh Cell’s Uncleaner utility to clean up temp files and other leftovers after an upgrade. If I’m feeling ambitious I’ll run the DriverStore Explorer (RAPR.exe) to identify and remove duplicate device drivers, too. Once upon a time I would run Piriform’s CCleaner as well, but I’m less than happy with that software now that the maker has started including bundleware in the installer. I haven’t found another tool I like as much as the old version.

Step 4: Update Third-Party Software

You can use a tool like KC Softwares SuMO or Patch My PC Updater to suss out most of the items in need of update on Windows PCs. SuMO is a little better at its job but costs about US$35 for the PRO version (does automatic updates for most programs, but sometimes vexing to use). PMP Updater is free, fast, and entirely automatic but doesn’t update everything. Sigh. I use PMP Update on my test machines, and SuMO PRO on my production PC myself. I’m doing this on the theory that it’s best to have everything updated before making a pristine image backup, as I do in the next step.

Step 5: Make a Pristine Backup

With everything upgraded and updated, and all the dross cleaned up, it’s the perfect time to make a fresh image backup. I like Macrium Reflect, mostly because it’s faster and more reliable than the built-in Windows 7 Backup and Restore utility (which MS itself has recommended against since 2016). And indeed, it’s faster at backing up and restoring than most other utilities I’ve used, and also includes a bootable rescue flash drive utility you can use for bare metal and “dead boot/system” drive repair/restore scenarios.

Please note: Macrium Reflect is MUCH faster than using the rollback utility to return to a lower-level OS image from a higher-level one. That’s why I feel safe getting rid of the Windows.old folder as part of my cleanup efforts. I know I’m not going to use those files anyway…

OK then, that’s my drill. I’m sticking to it. Hopefully, you’ll find something in there to like for yourself. Cheers!


Windows 10 LTSC Lifetime Gets Halved

OK, then. It must be something in the air. I blogged here about the Long Term Servicing Channel (LTSC) version of Windows 10 about two weeks ago. And today, I just saw — courtesy of the always vigilant Mary Jo Foley (MJF) at ZDNet — that MS is cutting LTSC support life from 10 to 5 years. This starts with the next release as explained in a Windows IT Pro blog post. (See below for a key snippet.) Fore sure, the big takeway is that Windows 10 LTSC lifetime gets halved, as of 21H2.

Why Windows 10 LTSC Lifetime Gets Halved?

The best answers for inevitable follow-on questions appear in a quote from the aforementioned blog post. Here ’tis:

Today we are announcing that the next version of Windows 10 Enterprise LTSC and Windows 10 IoT Enterprise LTSC will be released in the second half (H2) of calendar year 2021. Windows 10 Client LTSC will change to a 5-year lifecycle, aligning with the changes to the next perpetual version of Office. This change addresses the needs of the same regulated and restricted scenarios and devices. Note that Windows 10 IoT Enterprise LTSC is maintaining the 10-year support lifecycle; this change is only being announced for Office LTSC and Windows 10 Enterprise LTSC. You can read more about the Windows 10 IoT Enterprise LTSC announcement on the Windows IoT blog.

Two important take-aways:

1. Happily, this change synchronizes Windows 10 Enterprise LTSC and Office LTSC release timing.

2. Even better, Windows 10 IoT Enterprise LTSC is NOT affected. It stays on a 10-year schedule.

Apparently MS understands full well that, once deployed, IoT devices are best left alone as long as possible. Happily, Windows 10 Enterprise LTSC and Office LTSC are synching up, because they’re likely used in tandem. Thus, both benefit from the same release cycle. In most cases, five years is in keeping with typical technology refresh cycles (which usually run 5-7 years).

Plus çe change…

The complete French aphorism translates “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Indeed, it seems that MS isn’t afraid to tweak long-term servicing options, to better meet customer needs. My guess: making customers upgrade LTSC Office without upgrading the OS  simultaneously could be less than helpful. Therefore, it makes sense that MS would synch things up where the two are likely used together.

On another front, MJF and I both see a bit of ‘suasion possibly at work in this change. Here’s what she says on this in her story:

Microsoft execs have tried to dissuade customers from using LTSC versions of Windows 10 as a way to avoid regular feature updates. (More than a few customers do this.) They’ve emphasized that the intent of LTSC releases is to support mission-critical systems that can’t or shouldn’t get regular updates.

In today’s blog post, officials said they also found that many customers who installed LTSC versions for their information worker desktops “found that they do not require the full 10-year lifecycle.”

Given that the typical refresh cycle is less than 10 years, I’d have so say “No kidding!” to her final observation. I concur!


21H1 Hits Beta Preview Channel

The lead-in graphic for this story shows some big news. That is, the Feature update to Windows 10, Version 21H1 is now available. This applies to Windows Insiders in the Beta Insider Preview channel, I hasten to add. And indeed, the foregoing item showed up on my Beta Channel test machine this morning. Hence the proclamation that 21H1 hits Beta Preview channel.

When 21H1 Hits Beta Preview Channel, Then What?

There are two kinds of implications for this occurrence. One is technical, and the other is a matter of historical analysis and implication. On the technical front, this means that the upcoming 21H1 is more or less locked down. That is, what we see in this preview release is also pretty much everything we’ll see in any upcoming public release. On the historical front, public releases typically have followed previews somewhere from 4 to 6 weeks after the preview appears. That puts initial public release of 21H1 somewhere between March 18 and April 1, by my reckoning.

Upon reflection, I kind of like an April 1 date (April Fool’s Day).

The Beta Channel Upgrade Experience

The screencap you see at the head of this story is the one that appeared on my Beta Channel test PC. For up-to-date Beta Channel PCs, this update is undoubtedly an enablement package that simply turns on features already present in the Insider Preview OS.

Why say “enablement package?” I say that because it completed the pre-reboot portion of the install in under two minutes on a Surface Pro 3 (vintage 2014) machine. The “Working on Updates” portion was pretty speedy, too (less than a minute). And the post-reboot drill took about 30 seconds (just a hair slower than a normal rebooot, in other words).  You won’t have to spend much time twiddling your thumbs while waiting for this “feature upgrade” to install!

I’m jazzed to understand that 21H1 is in the offing, and should be making its way into public release somewhat sooner than I’d expected. My congrats and thanks to the #WindowsInsiders team in general. Take a read of Brandon Leblanc’s Announcement post for more Insider info.