Archive for category Windows 8

Speed Up BitLocker Encryption using Windows 8

I’ve been a huge fan of the BitLocker Drive Encryption feature in Windows desktop and server machines.  I have enabled BitLocker on all of my desktop, mobile, and server computers, plus external drives.  I’ve enabled encryption to help ensure that the data remains safe in the event that the drives are lost or stolen.  From my informal testing, I’ve seen minimal overhead related to encryption, and have experienced very few drawbacks.

One potential issue is the process of encrypting a new drive or device.  In earlier versions of BitLocker, the feature required the entire hard drive to be encrypted.  That includes the free space.  I recently purchased a 3TB USB 3.0 drive and noticed that, from my Windows 7 workstation, the process would take 20+ hours to complete (on a completely blank drive).  Fortunately, I realized that Windows 8 includes an enhancement that allows you to choose to encrypt only the used space on the drive? 

imageThe results?  Encrypting an empty 3TB from a Windows 8 machine (using a USB 2.0) connection took around a minute or so.  Now, I can connect it back to my Windows 7 workstation (all versions of BitLocker are cross-compatible), and start copying the data to the drive.  It’ll encrypt on the fly and will save many hours of needless overhead.  You can also use this approach for internal drives, though the hassle of removing and unlocking those might negate the performance improvement.

This is just one small part of the overall improvements to BitLocker in Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012.  For more information, see the Windows Security article series BitLocker Enhancements in Windows Server 2012 and Windows 8.  It includes an in-depth look at how you can use these features on your servers, and how you can enable BitLocker for Cluster Shared Volumes (CSVs) and manage disk encryption throughout your environment.

Just a little tip, for those of us who are still on Windows 7 but would like to take advantage of faster encryption.

Why I Rolled Back From the Windows 8 Release Preview

Since the release of the Windows 8 Developer Preview, I had been dabbling with the OS using a variety of virtual machines, desktop computers, and my notebook computer (which I use rarely).  I found some of the new features (especially, the under-the-covers architectural ones) to be really exciting, but I had my reservations about the new Metro UI.  On one hand, it was just a replacement for the traditional (and aging) Start Menu, so I figured it wouldn’t be a big deal.  On the other hand, it didn’t seem to be designed for power users and felt inefficient for “traditional” (mouse and keyboard) users.  Overall, though, I realized that I couldn’t give the OS a fair shot unless I replaced my primary OS with it, so I upgraded to the the Windows 8 Release Preview shortly after it was released. 

First Things First: The Conclusion

I figured I’d start with the conclusion of my experience with the Windows 8 Release Preview: After a little over a week (and ~80 hours) of using the OS, I ended up rolling back my primary desktop computer to Windows 7.  That’s the first time I’ve ever resorted to performing a full restore from backup (along with the pain of making sure my applications, source control, development tools, games, Media Center, and data remained current).  And this is from someone who primarily ran the Windows Vista betas for years (for more information, see my post My Struggles with Windows Vista).  It’s not that Windows 8 was horrible (it wasn’t), but I just couldn’t justify the new features and improvements against the pain points of the changes.

The remainder of this post provides some details about my upgrade, with the hopes that it might help others (and Microsoft) improve their experience.

The Test Environment and The Upgrade Process

The hardware configuration of my primary work computer is fairly recent: A Dell XPS 8300 with a Core i7 (2nd Gen.) CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD (SATA 3) for boot, and about 3.5 TB of usable hard disk storage.  The hardware configuration far exceeds any requirements for Windows 8, but I thought I’d mention it.  I run a three-monitor setup (two are driven by a rather anemic AMD Radeon 6450, and one is using an eVGA USB-to-HDMI adapter).  I have Bitlocker enabled on all of my hard disks.  Pretty much everything else is a plain, vanilla configuration.

An Uphill Upgrade Climb

To avoid having to reinstall and reconfigure my many complex applications (I do a lot of .NET and SQL Server work, and also have many VMs configured on this computer), I decided to perform an in-place upgrade from Windows 7 Ultimate Ed. to the Windows 8 Release Preview.  Unfortunately, even after removing some programs that were known to be incompatible with Windows 8 (the upgrade Wizard provided good information), the Upgrade process would fail and roll back at a late portion of the process (migrating Registry settings, I believe). 

Troubleshooting was not easy – I had to look through many different log files (some of which were huge), and rely on online tribal knowledge to try to figure out the issue.  After four failed upgrade attempts (all of which rolled back just fine), I’m not sure what solved the problem.  I resorted to unplugging all USB devices, pre-installing the AMD Radeon Windows 8 Drivers, and uninstalling mouse and keyboard drivers.  That seemed to work, and I was able to login and continue.  Still, the average user would not have been able to do this much troubleshooting.  They would either have resorted to a full, clean install or have given up entirely.  I do think this experience will improve significantly before the final release of Windows 8, though I haven’t heard much about that.

Opening Windows and Closing Doors: Usability Issues

Now, on the the heart of the issue(s).  There’s certainly no shortage of criticism and skepticism related to running Windows 8’s Metro user interface for non-touch-enabled users.  I knew that going in, but I ran into many other unexpected issues.  Here’s a list of problems that I ran into, in rough order of importance to me:

  • Disruptive search for files: When performing a very common operation, such as searching for a filename, the process is cumbersome and jarring. I name and organize my files well, and I know exactly what I’m looking for. The Metro-based Start Menu requires me to hit Win-F, it takes over the entire screen, and then 95% of the time just returns me to the desktop to open a file in a “real” application.
  • Open File Location: There’s no way to quickly and easily open the folder location of a file once it is returned as a search result. This one drove me crazy! It’s a huge regression from previous Windows releases, and made the file search capability essentially useless to me. Instead, I’d end up opening Windows Explorer (Win-E), clicking on my C: drive, and then using the search dialog there. It was tedious, but at least it worked.
  • Searching in Apps: (or, Two Clicks is a Charm?): Metro apps use a universal search U, and this wasn’t at all easy for me to discover. For example, the context-sensitive menu’s in apps like Maps and the Microsoft Store didn’t provide a way to search (perhaps the first and most common operation anyone would want to perform). Additionally, the UI itself didn’t have a search box. At first, I thought Microsoft did this to disguise the number of apps in the Store. Later, I learned that I needed to hit Win-C (to open the Charms bar) and then click or use cursor keys to select Search. Even after I understood this, though, it was far too much effort: I’d appreciate another shortcut key to quickly access Search (and, no, Win-F, Win-Q, and Win-C don’t cut it).
  • Unable to pin files: I pin my top 5- 10 most commonly-used files and shortcuts to the Start Menu in Windows 7.  For example, as a consultant, I keep a timesheet for clients in Microsoft Excel.  I launch this spreadsheet 5 – 10 times per day.  In Windows 8, my closest option was to add Excel as a permanent fixture on my taskbar and pin the relevant file(s) to its context menu.  It works, but it’s not nearly as easy as in Windows 7 (and it completely avoids new Windows 8 features).
  • Windows Media Center (WMC) Issues: I have been using WMC for years, and primarily use it to stream video and music to my Xbox 360.  It has been working great over the years.  I’m no newbie when it comes to dealing with codecs and the complexities of converting between video types, but no matter what I did, I couldn’t get WMC to stream anything other than WMV files.  MPG, MKV / x264 files all played fine locally in WMP and in WMC, but not on the Xbox 360.  I eventually gave up on getting this working (that’s not something I do very often).
  • File system ownership/permissions issues: I’m not sure if this problem was due to the use of a Windows Live ID or changes to the SIDs after the upgrade process, but I lost the ability to access many of my most important folders.  I had to manually take ownership or them or reset permissions.  Still, many application data folders still had problems that taking ownership wouldn’t resolve.  I disabled UAC entirely and had the same experience.  In the end, no amount of permissions changes seemed to help resolve problems with numerous apps, so I gave up.
  • Lack of backup support:  In an ideal world, there would be no need to backup an OS and applications.  Everything should be restore easily, as long as you have a good copy of your system and user state information.  Sadly, we don’t live in a world like that, and installing and configuring applications is a major chore (especially for developer- and IT-types like me).  Windows 8 includes a File History feature, but you really have to trick the system to find a true backup utility.  I restored to using a third-party backup solution, just to get a full image of my OS hard drive.  That’s a big step backward, in my opinion. 
  • No Training/Transition: In the Release preview, users who have not experienced the Metro UI are thrown-in the the new user interface to learn it on their own.  While Microsoft has promised some basic training and guidance in the final release, it really better be good to help ease the learning curve.
  • The Two Faces of Control Panel: Having two different Control Panel applications was confusing and annoying.  Even after spending days working with basic settings, I often resorted to a search, ended up in a Metro settings page, and then had to go to the standard Control Panel to really make the changes I wanted.  It’s too painful, and doesn’t provide much of a benefit (at least for the standard desktop power user). 
  • Task Switching: Over the last five or so years, I found that I rarely use the Alt-Tab or Win-Tab task switching shortcuts.  The primary reason is that, when using multiple monitors, even if I change the focus with a shortcut, I still need a good way to see which window is active.  Additionally, when using multiple windows at the same time, the order of apps in the task-switching list
  • Lack of Metro Apps: Perhaps it’s inevitable at this stage of the pre-release cycle, but there were many applications I would have liked to see (especially which I compare the options to those available on my Android tablet).  That will change over time, but for now, I didn’t have a compelling reason to put up with the changes.

It’s Not All Bad: Benefits of Windows 8

I really liked many of the many features in the Windows 8 Release Preview.  I’ll probably be talking about them more on this blog, but for now, here’s a brief list of highlights:

  • Client-Side Hyper-V: Having Microsoft’s virtualization platform built-in to the client OS was great.  I was able to migrate virtual machines while they remained running and move VMs between my Windows Server 2012 instance and the local machine.  I’m not sure how useful this will be for “average” users, but I loved it.
  • File Copying Improvements: The new file copying UI was attractive and information.  I like the ability to re-prioritize operations and to pause them (I used both options many times).  In addition, Windows 8 supports the SMB 3.0 protocol, which provides huge improvements in performance and reliability when connected to compatible servers (like Windows Server 2012).
  • The Metro UI/Apps: Yes, I’m listing it as a positive thing, overall.  The ability to install and run trusted applications from the Microsoft Store and the usability of many of those applications was excellent.  If this experience could be better integrated with the OS (and for co-existence with the overwhelming majority of “real” applications), I think it would be even better.
  • Taskbar Improvements: The ability to specify which icons are shown on which taskbars in a multi-monitor setup were useful (though they did take up additional vertical screen space).
  • General Performance: Windows 8’s startup, shutdown, and sleep speeds really did seem to be improved.  I tend to reboot rarely (often once a week or so), so the savings of a few seconds a month didn’t amount to a huge difference.

Conclusion: A New Hope?

Obviously, many of the issues I encountered could be fixed quite easily by Microsoft (or through third-party hacks and tools). They’re not major architectural problems, and there’s still some time for change before the final release. However, the fact that these problems haven’t been resolved in what’s being called a “Release Preview” is worrisome to me. It also seems to reinforce the criticism that mouse/keyboard users (especially power users) seem to be treated as a secondary concern.

So, what’s my plan for moving to (or away from) Windows 8 when it’s released?  I’m still not quite sure.  I will certainly do a lot more testing (using either boot from VHD or installing to an alternate partition) when Windows 8 is released.  As for replacing Windows 7 on my primary computer, I’ll have to re-weight the pros and cons listed in this post.  Either way, though, I’ll write more about my experience here.

Windows 8 Release Preview / Windows Server 2012 Release Candidate Now Available

imageThe Windows 8 Release Preview is now available to anyone’s who is itching to try out the latest (and last) publicly-available build before the final release of the products.  Consumer-types can Download the Windows 8 Release Preview from  The bits have also been posted to Microsoft TechNet and Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN).  For now, my downloads seem to be going pretty quickly.

As the products are getting close to release, I’ll plan to post some tips and info to this blog over the next few weeks and months.  Feel free to comment if there’s anything you’re particularly interested in reading about.  I might have posted this a little sooner, but all of my bandwidth is currently allocated to download the installation media and VMs.

The Windows Server 2012 Community Roadshow

imageWindows Server 2012 (formerly known as Windows Server “8”) is nearing completing.  With a “Release Preview” set to be available in early June, it’s a great time to bet familiar with the extremely long list of new features in Microsoft’s latest server platform. 

To help IT pros learn from those that have experience with the new features, Microsoft, Dell, HP, and the Global IT Community Association (GITCA) are sponsoring the Windows Server 2012 Community Roadshow.  These events will be covering many areas throughout the U.S. and internationally and presentations will be made by local/regional Microsoft MVPs.  I’ll be presenting in Austin, TX on Tuesday, May 29th, 2012 from 1:00pm to 5:00pm (location details coming soon).  Visit the event web site to find a location near you (dates and locations are still being added), and be sure to register if you plan to attend.  Here’s a brief overview of the topics that will be covered:

This event will showcase presentations and demos from Microsoft MVPs on the following topics

· Manageability

· Simplifies configuration processes

· Improved management of multi-server environments

· Role-centric dashboard and integrated console

· Simplifies administration process of multi-server environments with Windows PowerShell 3.0

· Virtualization

· More secure multi-tenancy

· Flexible infrastructure, when and where you need it

· Scale, performance, and density

· High availability

· Storage and Availability

· Reduces planned maintenance downtime

· Addresses the causes of unplanned downtime

· Increases availability for services and applications

· Increases operational efficiency and lower costs

· Networking

· Manage private clouds more efficiently

· Link private clouds with public cloud services

· Connect users more easily to IT resources

As an aside, I recently returned from the TEC 2012 conference in San Diego, where I gave two presentations on just the storage features in Windows Server 2012 and Hyper-V 3.0.  That alone was a lot of information to cram into just a couple of hours.  This no small release, and there’s a lot to learn.  I hope readers of this blog are able to make it to either the Austin event or one of the many other locations which will be added soon!

Windows Server 2012 / Hyper-V 3.0 Component Architecture Poster

imageOK, perhaps it doesn’t get much geekier than decorating your office with large, complicated posters of technical knowledge.  But I’ve always been a fan of Microsoft’s Component Architecture Posters (though I rarely have the opportunity to actually print and display them).  These posters are designed to convey an large volume of information in a way that is easy for readers/viewers to consume and understand.  They’re somewhat like the “infographics” many sites and publishers use to convey information in an easier-to-consume way. 

To download your copy of the posted in PDF format, just visit the Microsoft Download Center page: Windows Server “8” Beta Hyper-V Component Architecture Poster (published March 2012).  The screenshot is a very small screenshot of just one tiny portion of the overall poster.  Just a couple of notes on terminology changes:

  • Windows Server “8” Beta is now officially named Windows Server 2012
  • SMB 2.2 is now officially known as SMB 3.0
  • All information is current as of the “beta” version, and some relatively minor details (like VM CPU and memory limits) might change prior to the official release.

Thanks to John Howard’s post on the Windows Virtualization Team Blog for the information.  I think we can look forward to an updated poster sometime prior to or soon after the general availability of Windows Server 2012.  I’ll update this post if/when that happens.

Cisco AnyConnect VPN Client and Windows 8 Compatibility

imageMigrating to a new operating system can be tricky, with some special “gotchas” for various applications.  While Microsoft has done a great job in minimizing driver changes that can impact application and hardware compatibility, there are always some exceptions.  One particularly problematic piece of software for me has always been Cisco’s AnyConnect VPN client.  I rely on it for connecting to my clients’ networks and, for the most part, it works well on Windows 7. 

The Problem

While testing the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, though, I ran into some problems.  While the standard x64 installer for the client seemed to work properly, the client would automatically disconnect after authenticating with the VPN server.  I’d receive the following error message:

Secure VPN Connection terminated locally by the Client.

Reason 442: failed to enable Virtual Adapter

The Solution

Thanks to some really helpful posts online (references below), I found that the solution was to make a minor change to the Registry.  First, using RegEdit, find the following Registry path:


You should see a key called “DisplayName”.  Simply change its value by removing the unnecessary characters at the beginning of the name.  In my case, I was left with “Cisco Systems VPN Adapter for 64-bit Windows”, and everything worked fine when I tried to connect again.  It’s a strange bug (and one that I wish was better documented), but I have been up and running after this change on three different computers. 

If you’re unfamiliar with editing the Registry (and the inherent dangers therein), the below links will provide more details).

Update for Windows 8 Release Preview:

The above Registry path on my most recent installation seems to have changed; on my primary computer, the correct path is:


Fortunately, the DisplayName key change worked fine for me.

Other Options

The Cisco AnyConnect VPN client seems to be aging, and support is difficult to come by unless you have a Cisco support account.  Fortunately, there are other third-party commercial and freeware alternatives. It has been a while since I’ve used any of them, but one that I see mentioned often is the VPN Client for Windows from  Feel free to post a comment if you’ve had any experiences (good or bad) with VPN alternatives.


Virtualization and Storage Presentations at TEC 2012

It’s still a few months away, but I’ll be presenting at two storage-related presentations in the Virtualization and Cloud track at The Experts Conference (TEC) 2012 in San Diego, CA.  Below are the abstracts.  For more information about the conference, please visit the TEC 2012 Conference web site.


Storage Improvements in Windows Server 8 / Hyper-V 3.0

Virtualization architects and administrators have long sought quicker, simpler and more cost effective ways to scale and manage storage in their data centers. Microsoft has made many significant improvements in the architecture and storage features of Hyper-V 3.0 and the Windows Server 8 platform. Examples include support for SMB-based virtual disks, management UI improvements, network stack improvements, Hyper-V Replicas, NTFS reliability improvements, incremental VHD backups, storage de-duplication, offloaded data transfer, SMB protocol improvements, and Storage Spaces. These features can help improve storage management for many different types of virtualization deployments and can help bring the idea of cloud-based automation closer to reality.

This session will focus on technical details and demonstrations of new features in the Windows Server 8 platform and in Hyper-V 3.0. The focus will be on practical suggestions for how and when the new features should be used to reduce costs, simplify administration, and increase performance.

Designing Storage for Virtual Environments

One of the most common issues related to virtual infrastructure design is related to planning for and managing the storage environment. Successful SAN, NAS, and local storage deployments require the provisioning of highly-reliable, high-performance, cost-effective solutions to meet business and technical needs. The challenge for IT is in consolidating and optimizing infrastructures while staying within budgets. The primary concerns – including storage capacity, performance, and reliability – can drive the success or failure of virtualized deployments.

This presentation begins with recommendations for designing a storage environment based on requirements, starting with a solid understanding of application workload characteristics. Strategies for collecting storage statistics through historical and real-time performance monitoring can provide valuable insight into real requirements. Based on this data, IT departments can compare different storage approaches, including centralized network-based storage, and cloud-based options. Important features to consider include file- and block-level de-duplication, thin provisioning, high-availability, clustering, and disaster recovery. Attendees will learn methods by which they can best plan for, implement, manage, and monitor storage for virtualization in their own environments.

Windows 8 Developer Preview: Virtualization Options (VMware Workstation)

imageFor those of us developers that are itching to get our hands (and fingers) on the recently release Windows 8 Developer Preview, you might hit an unexpected snag.  If you’re like me, the first thing you tried after downloading the bits was to create a new virtual machine in your favorite desktop virtualization platform (most likely Microsoft Windows Virtual PC or VMware Workstation).  However, after creating and booting the VM and attaching an ISO, I encountered the following error:

VMware Workstation internal monitor error

vcpu-O:NOT_IMPLEMENTED vmcore/vmm/intr/apic.c:1903


Unfortunately, it looks like VMware Workstation 7.x platform (and, reportedly, VirtualPC, though I haven’t tested it myself), does not yet support Windows 8.  Perhaps I should have realized that a lot of the undercover boot and CPU optimizations would require an architectural shift to support the required CPU commands.

Options That Should Work

Though this might not be ideal for all users, there are several options to get the Developer Preview of Windows 8 running in a virtual machine:

  • Use Microsoft’s Hyper-V: If you have a Windows Server 2008 or 2008 R2 installation (or the stand-alone Hyper-V Server), you should be able to spin up a new Windows 8 VM quickly and easily.  It’s not desktop virtualization, but if you have a spare machine that supports Hyper-V’s CPU requirements, you should be all set.
  • Wait for the release of VMware Workstation 8.  While I haven’t yet tried it myself, there are reports of people having success with the beta of the upcoming release of VMware’s Workstation production.  A beta virtualization stack with a Developer Preview OS – How’s that for living on the edge?  It looks like the product is officially available from VMware now and you can request a VMware Workstation 8 Evaluation online (registration required).
    • Update: I downloaded a 30-day evaluation version of VMware Workstation 8, and the Windows 8 Developer Preview installed without one minor catch: Don’t use the VMware "Easy Install" option, as it’s based on the automatic install procedures for Windows 7.  Other than that, I’m up and running!
  • VirtualBox apparently supports the WIndows 8 Developer Preview (again, I haven’t yet tried it myself).  The application is available for free download.  The Windows 7 Hacker site has a walkthrough titled Install Windows 8 Developer Preview on VirtualBox.

Dual-Boot / Clean Install

Of course, you could skip virtualization altogether and install Windows 8 directly on your hardware.  That would give the best overall performance and the best experience with the new Metro UI.  You could install The Windows 8 Dev Preview alongside your current OS (though you might need to repartition), or you can just pop a spare hard drive in your computer to avoid any messy boot complications.  In general, this approach has worked great for me in the past.

Another option is to Boot to VHD.  That’s a significantly more complicated process, but the blog post Installing Windows 8 on Bare Metal with VHD-Boot should help.

A Note About the Developer Preview

While we’re all itching to try the new UI and functionality in Windows 8, there are a couple of things to keep in mind.  First, this version is not yet a “beta”.  It’s an earlier release that is designed to get developers up and running.  The official build number is Build 8102 M3.  Even if you’re like me and you’re willing to live on the bleeding edge with software, you probably don’t want to install this build as your primary OS.  Furthermore, Microsoft has mentioned that several features are not included in this build (though I haven’t yet run into anything that’s a showstopper for me).

On the brighter side, this build does not require product activation.  Coupled with the easy accessibility of the download from the Windows 8 Developer Preview site, that effectively means everyone will have easy access to this preview release.  Downloads are also available for MSDN Subscribers.

For More Information…

In case you missed it, Microsoft’s BUILD Conference keynotes are available at the BUILD Conference Web Site.  The Day 1 Keynote covered dozens of really exciting features, presented by Steven Sinofsky and several other Microsoft Program Managers.  I’m just getting started with my testing/development, and I’ll try to post more here once I have something of value.

Update (09/19/2011)

Based on the numbers of hits to this article, I thought this would be a fairly important topic.  On the Building Windows 8 blog, Microsoft has recently published a post titled, Running Windows 8 Developer Preview in a virtual environment.  It includes more details on the pros and cons of running Windows 8 using virtualization and provides the following summary:


  • Hyper-V in Windows 8 Developer Preview
  • Hyper-V in Windows Server 2008 R2
  • VMware Workstation 8.0 for Windows
  • VirtualBox 4.1.2 for Windows


  • Microsoft Virtual PC (all versions)
  • Microsoft Virtual Server (all versions)
  • Windows 7 XP Mode
  • VMWare Workstation 7.x or older

For now, I’m happily running Windows 8 test VMs on an evaluation version of VMware Workstation 8.0 and in Hyper-V on Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1.  Next stop: Running on some fairly recent hardware.