Problems installing Windows 10 from scratch?

windows10

I recently had to do a reinstall of Windows 10 on a 3 year old Lenovo desktop. I previously updated the machine from Windows 7 to Windows 10, and shortly thereafter the hard drive started to give intermittent issues, so I decided to upgrade the machine with a SSD and do a clean install of Windows 10 at the same time. Turns out, installing Windows 10 from scratch isn’t that easy, so here are some of the things I discovered while researching the issue.

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Microsoft is bringing the Start menu back, for reals this time!

This might seem like old news, because it actually is, since Microsoft said the same thing when releasing Windows 8.1. I remember getting all excited over that release, until I actually researched it a bit and noticed that the new “Start Menu” in Windows 8.1 was actually just a shortcut to the apps menu.
When I read this same promise the second time today, I was very sceptical at first, since last time it was such a huge disappointment, but this time Microsoft might actually deliver.

They are promising an old school start menu in Windows 7 style, but with added active tiles, which in my opinion actually makes this better than just bringing the start menu back. They are also promising to add the option of running Windows 8 apps in windows while in Desktop mode.

Windows 8 Start Menu – Image from The Register

Granted, most power users and myself included have already fixed this with third party application such as Start8 and ModernMix, but for enterprise deployments, applications like these just aren’t feasible, so it’s nice to finally get an official fix from Microsoft.
I myself is looking forward to this new menu, and it might just be the thing to make me migrate my other computers to Windows 8.

One caveat though, don’t expect this to be coming to a computer near you in the near future, Microsoft’s spokesperson cautioned customers that most of the features discussed at Build 2014 are “not coming in the next few days or weeks.”

Update:

Now that Microsoft has confirmed the “real” start menu in Windows 10, I thought it appropriate to also tell you guys that I’ve found a really good substitute, StartIsBack. It does exactly what it says on the the label, and after using it on both Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012 for almost a year, I can tell you that it’s very stable, lean and functions perfectly. It’s also very convincing, you don’t notice it as an add-on, it just feels like how the start menu should have been in the first place in Windows 8.

younited – An in-depth review

Introduction

So, a lot of you have probably read my earlier post on some of the cool, but sadly not very widely heard of, stuff that F-Secure is doing besides their bread-and-butter anti-virus software. If you haven’t, check out A bunch of apps from F-Secure that you really need to know about

One of the apps I talked about in that article is younited by F-Secure, a cloud storage app very similar to Dropbox and Google Drive. Today I’m going to write a bit about what it does, how you set it up, and some of the neat features that makes is similar and at the same time different from the more mainstream alternatives.

Setup

First of all, younited is in an “early access” stage, i.e. you need to submit your email, and if you’re cool enough, they’ll let you in. It took like half a day for me to get my invite, and I suspect it’ll be similar for everybody else (after all, I’m very far from being consider “special audience”).

So, after you submit your email address, you’ll get an access code. After that, all you need to do is download the app, and log in with your email address and the access code as your password. After that, you’ll be required to change your password, and F-Secure has been kind enough to put in a little password strength meter in the app itself (I mean, they are in the computer security business after all).

After that, the app asks you to name your current device, because unlike all other cloud storage apps I’ve seen, younited has the added feature of sorting your stuff by source, which I find very handy indeed. It also asks you what kind of content you want to auto-sync to younited, your options are photos, videos, contacts and messages. The last two options are very interesting indeed, since I’m unaware of any app that does that natively, usually that part is handled by Exchange, iCloud or GMail these days, and I don’t think this app will in any way compete with these when it comes to primary storage, but it’s nice to have a backup/alternative (if you’ve ever used Microsoft Exchange to sync your text messages to your email, you know how cumbersome some of the alternatives can be).

After that, younited starts to look through your phone for the content you’ve selected for upload, and starts syncing it to the cloud. You’ll be presented with a small progress bar in the roll-down menu (at least on Android), and younited will return you to the primary UI.

younited Main UI

Sadly, my life is so boring that I don’t have any really juicy pictures to involuntarily share with you, except for maybe that picture of some guys dancing shirtless behind a bar to YMCA. Go on, have that one on the house.

And there you have it, quite a normal user interface for a cloud storage application. The menu is also very neat and organized, and here you can also see the “sources”-tab I talked earlier about.

younited Menu

Features

So, what makes this application different than for example Dropbox or Google Drive, except the contacts and message sync, and the sources tab. I mean, nobody would considering moving over to a new app just for those features if they already have all their stuff somewhere else?

Well, this is where the going gets interesting. As most of you know, F-Secure is a Finnish company, and they are pretty tough on privacy (watch their CRO talk about the NSA and cloud services here). So it might not come as a great surprise that younited stores all your stuff in datacenters in Finland. F-Secure also states that they will not share your stuff with anybody (i.e. advertisers, governments etc.), which, as I wrote earlier, should make your stuff quite a bit harder to get to for the NSA. Of course, this is no guarantee, but it better than definitely knowing the NSA and other government agencies has access to your stuff, which is the case with, for example, Google (that article also clearly shows that the NSA needs a Powerpoint Guru ASAP).

On top of all this, younited gives 10 gigabytes of storage for free to anyone that signs up before the end of 2013, without any attached strings like having you tweet about the app to earn another 50 megabytes of storage. This I think should be one of the better offers around, compared to the major alternatives at least. Also, younited is ad free.

younited seems to support all the major devices and platforms, currently the list is;

  • Windows
  • Mac
  • iOS (iPhone & iPad)
  • Android
  • Windows Phone

Conclusion

Okay, so this is a neat cloud service, and it also packs quite a punch compared to the bigger kids on the block, but will it survive? Will people actually consider using it?

Actually, I’m not quite sure about that yet. I’m not going to switch over to younited completely, but I’ll definitely start using it for more private stuff, like my tax returns and other goodies. The main problem I see is not with its feature set (which is impressive indeed), but with the sharing aspect. I mean, most people already use either Dropbox or Google Drive to share folders and files with other people, and that feature is completely absent from younited at the time of writing this. That being said, the service is still “early access”, and I’ve seen talk about Dropbox integration on several sites, so that might be addressed in a future update.

So, my conclusion is; already really great service, and if F-Secure can pull off the Dropbox/Google Drive integration, we’re going to see a real winner here!

I would also like to add that I have no affiliation with F-Secure in any way, and I wrote this article without receiving any form of compensation from anybody.

How to install Windows XP from a USB-stick

I’ve recently tried very hard to install Windows XP on my Media Center/File Server, which little/no success until today. This was mostly due to the following factors;

  • My server has a RAID controller (SI3114) that Windows doesn’t recognize from stock
  • My server has no floppy drive, and I have no intention to install one at this day and age
  • My server is located at the second floor of my home, my main computer is at the bottom floor at the opposite end of the house. ^^
  • I was dead set on not burning any ISOs to any CDs since that would involve me going out of my comfortable home and buying said CDs.

Well, points 1 and 2 were easily solved by slip-streaming the driver into the Windows installation with the help of nLite, which at the same time allowed me to preset some things and install ServicePack 3 automagically as well during the installation.

Then the ISO-stuff remained, so I decided that it can’t be that hard to boot the installer from a 2GB USB-stick instead. Turns out it is, at least finding out how to do it. This is mostly due to the fact that any info on the Internet on the topic is extremely unstructured and there are many different methods to do it with. My method is as a compilation of two methods, and I personally think it’s the simplest.

  1. Download nLite, instert Windows XP CD and point nLite to it.
  2. Build your custom ISO
  3. Mount the ISO with Daemon Tools
  4. Download the other programs needed; USB_PREP8, PEtoUSB and Bootsect
  5. Move the PEtoUSB exe to the USB_PREP8 folder
  6. Run USB_PREP8.cmd
  7. Press Enter to start the process, which will load PEtoUSB
  8. Format your USB-drive with PEtoUSB, with “Enable Format” and “Enable LBA” checked and the right USB drive selected. Leave the “Format Compleate” window open!
  9. Start another command line prompt and navigate to the folder which holds Bootsect.exe
  10. Run “Bootsect.exe /nt52 X:” were X: is the drive letter for your particular USB drive
  11. Now close the extra terminal window, and click “OK” and close PEtoUSB
  12. Now you need to run 1 in the USB_PREP8 terminal, which will let you point the program to the virtual drive containing the mounted nLite image
  13. Now run 2 in the same terminal, and select an drive letter that’s not in use on your computer, usually T: is fine.
  14. Now run 3 in the same terminal, and select the drive letter for your USB drive.
  15. Start the copying process by selecting 4 in the same terminal.
  16. The terminal is going to ask you if it’s okay to format the virtual drive T:. Go ahead as this is just a temporary drive used to hold your installation before it’s transferred to the USB stick
  17. When it’s done formatting press “ENTER” to continue. The program will start to copy the installation files to the temporary drive. When it’s done press “ENTER” again.
  18. A pop-up box will ask you if it’s okay to start copying the files to the USB stick. Answer “YES”. This process takes a little while.
  19. After the copy-process is done the program will ask you if you want to make the USB drive “prefered boot drive U:” Answer “YES” as this is important, otherwise it will mount the drive as C:\ when you boot into the installer, which will make your real hard disc D:\, which is where XP will be installed. 🙂
  20. Now the installer will ask you if it’s okay to unmount the temporary drive T:. Answer “YES” and you’re done!

Some parts of the unattended nLite installer doesn’t really work that well with this method (like automaticly adding the serial key for XP and such), since this method reqiers the “Unattended” part of “TXTSETUP.SIF” to be commented out, but all the important stuff (like automatically loading SCSI and RAID drivers) seems to work fine. It’s also possible that Unattended doesn’t work due to the fact that I’m not running it completely unattended, I’m not an nLite expert.

Thanks to EEEguides.com and Mikazo Tech Blog for the info, the background work for this article is all theirs, I just assembled it here and added my own touches and explanations.

Printers

I don’t know about most IT-guys, but I at least have a profound hate for printers. I just hate them with the very core of my being. And the weird thing is that I’m not sure why I hate them so much. I think it is because that awful Epson “Photo” inkjet that I had (or rather “still have somewhere”) some 10 years ago. I can still remember the woes of getting that evil thing to work with Windows 98 through USB. The problem was that the idiotic thing installed itself on one port, and if you then happened to plug it into another port it would plain and simply not work. And the really annoying thing was that there was no way to check with port it was installed on (as if you then could identify it among the 7 other USB ports at the back of the computer), and what port you had plugged it into at the moment. And even blindly switching between all the ports wouldn’t work either, so if you happened to unplug it and then plug it in wrong, you were stuck with reinstalling the printer, which sometimes didn’t work either. All this nonsense resulted to me switching it over to LPT, which was oh so slow but oh so reliable as well (as there’s only one bloody LPT port on most computers).

I’m not to this day sure if that was due to flaky USB support in Windows 98SE, or due to a bad USB implementation on the Epson printer, as the same computer (a 700MHz Dell) still serves as the printer server in my home network, but the printer is nowadays a Canon Color Laser (very very very good, and ooh so cheap), and the OS is Windows 2000 Pro.

Another reason for why I hate printers and all the problems that come with them might come from my junior highschool years. Back there they had (and still have) an ancient HP laser printer, B&W and very slow. Back then the printer wasn’t really the problem, it was more the extremely flaky printer server box they used to connect it to the network that was the problem. I can’t remember the exact brand of the thing, but it was something like “InkServer” or something. Anyhow, that thing almost never worked properly, and it was amazingly difficult to troubleshoot as the printer only gave numerical error messages (and noone knew where the manual was) and the network box had all sorts of problems of it’s own which you couldn’t get out of it as there wasn’t really any way to access it. In hindsight I probably think you could have telnetted into it and adjusted it’s settings, but I wasn’t as skilled back then to think of that… Luckily that damn box is gone and the printer is merrily connected to the teachers computer, which is a good thing as otherwise they would be calling me every time that awful thing throws a whoopie over something.

Now then, why am I telling you all this?

It’s the introduction to why I wasn’t very happy yesterday morning, and why I was quite ambivalent a short while after.

I was called out to fix a printer that for some odd reason wasn’t working. I didn’t even try to troubleshoot it over the phone as this was one of those old B&W HP lasers with just an yellow error LED and a green OK LED. This wouldn’t make my on-site job much easier either as the yellow LED blinks just the same no matter what’s wrong. This, coupled with my physical hatred for printer troubleshooting, was the reason for why I wasn’t a happy camper when I left the office.

When I got there I first checked the printer’s job stack (full of course), cleared it and then I went to work. After a quick examination I yanked the cover to get to the plate and toner cartridge, and wouldn’t you know it, there was a thick piece of paper (must have been over 150 g/m^2) wedged inbetween the rollers.

When will people learn that you can’t use an old bottom-of-the-line cheapo laser to print on bloody cardboard? Aarg!

Anyhow, as I exited towards my car after a job well done, I felt very ambivalent. First I was annoyed over driving approx. 8 km for such a simple task, but then again I was also extremely grateful for the fact that the error was such a minor one as I have very bad experiences with almost un-fixable printers.

Frustration

Today I’ve done the “school-run” since 10 AM, and it’s always frustrating. Basically, my co-worker is responsible for all the work that needs to be done to the different schools’ computers, and therefore this is mostly his problem. Unfortunately he’s on sick-leave for the following three weeks, so I have to take on his work. This includes all of the schools’ computer systems. The work isn’t very hard in itself, but it’s the pupils that makes it so annoying. In the Junior High, the pupils seem to have taken it as a personal goal to completely destroy ever computer.

For example, my co-worker replaced a CD-drive a couple of weeks ago because it wouldn’t shut. Upon examination we noticed that it was full of European 5 cents.

So, the reason why today was particularly frustrating. Yesterday I installed 7 new Dell desktop computers in the computer class. These we setup with mandatory profiles (basically it’s making Windows XP load a pre-configured profile for the pupil account on start-up so they can’t mess it up), and a small wrapper program for cmd.exe, which checked which user was trying to run it, and if it was the pupil it displayed a message box with “GAME OVER” and displayed a rickrolled.me site.

This was quite a smart move, as the site allows you to track how many persons you’ve “rickrolled”, which allowes us to see how many times the nasty little buggers have tried to run cmd.exe.

So, since 5 pm yesterday (or really 8 am today) until 1 pm today, 11 pupils have tried to run cmd.exe. And since the curriculum doesn’t contain anything about using the CLI or batch-files, I’m assuming that they were up to no good. Yesterday we found a batch-file in the pupils network-drive which was 12 MB big, line after line of “start”. If you figure that every start only takes up 5 bytes, and then add in formating, you’ll see how many lines we’re talking about here.

Anyhow, today I needed to check an error I made when installing the computers yesterday, so I went back. Today there was a class in session when I dropped by, so the teacher told some pupils to move aside so I could fix the computer (somehow I messed up when trying to update the mandatory profile to include a network drive and a short-cut to the drive). A normally behaved pupil would have moved aside and watched interestedly as I proceeded to fix the computer (as I did when I went to the same school 5-6 years ago =).  But this egghead proceeded to hide the task bar (like that would stop me…) and then unplugged the keyboard. WHY? It’s not as if he made sure I wouldn’t be able to fix it, all I had to do was to plug in the keyboard, press Ctrl+Alt+Del, log off and log in again. Just plain old annoying…

Anyhow, now I’m going to do some more tweaking of this blog, look up the cost of a low profile firewire card, email that to the computer-class teacher at the Junior High, and then it’s coffee time!