Archive for category Windows 7

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.

Troubleshooting Windows Media Center (WMC) and Power Management Issues

One of the most annoying Windows desktop-related issues I have run across over the past several years is related to Power Management.  I routinely use sleep mode (with hibernate on my mobile computers), and rarely reboot my computers.  In fact, on my primary computer (which sees a lot of virtualization and development-related action), I tend to reboot the computer weekly, or even less often.  However, power management has not always worked as well as I would have liked.  It seems that there are always applications and device drivers that want to interrupt what you do. 

The Problem

One such offender was Microsoft’s own Windows Media Center in Windows 7.  While I didn’t know it at first, after deploying Windows 7 to my new workstation, my computer was automatically waking up each morning before I did (and I usually wake up pretty early).  I tracked down the issue by running the “powercfg –lastwake” command.  While it doesn’t always provide the most useful information, below is the result I received:


C: \Users\Anil>powercfg -lastwake
Wake History Count – 1
Wake History [O]
Wake Source Count – 1
Wake Source [O]
Type: Wake Timer
Owner: [PROCESS] \Device\HarddiskUolume2\Windows\System32\services .exe
Owner Supplied Reason: Windows will execute \Microsoft\Windows\Media Center
\mcupdatescheduled scheduled task that requested waking the computer.

The Solution

Disabling “wake timers” in my power configuration profile didn’t seem to help.  This pointed me to the “Scheduled Tasks” feature, where I was able to drill down to the source task.  I unchecked the option to allow this task to automatically wake the computer, and all went well – no more automatic power-on signals at ~3:00am.  Of course, the same approach could be used to troubleshoot other wake-related issues.

Knowledge of Power

While it’s not always easy to find, Windows OS’s contain a wealth of monitoring information and reports that can help track down various issues.  One example is the built-in “System Diagnostics” report that can give you some insight into how your computer is managing power.


Other Issues

Unfortunately, I have still run into other power management-related issues, and nothing I have done has seemed to help.  For example, on two different Windows 7 installations, I have had an issue where the monitors would automatically come out of power-saving mode.  I regularly use three monitors, and want them to go into a low-power mode when I log off the computer.  The monitors power off correctly, but they seem to wake at random times, even when no mouse, keyboard, or other devices are connected (or allowed to wake the computer).  I’ve tested everything from potential Wake-on-LAN issues to installing and reinstalling software to no avail.  I suspect that the issue might be a USB-to-DVI adapter that I have used on both computers, but I do need to use that (and unplugging it and uninstalling the drivers didn’t seem to help).  If anyone has any suggestions, I’d be happy to try them!

Windows 7 Dynamic Themes (Bing)

imageWhile I can’t say that I’m overly partial to any one search engine, I tend to use Bing more often than I use Google.  I like the overall format of the results more, and I especially like seeing the daily images on the home page.  I wasn’t aware that I could get something similar for my desktop, as well (and without installing Bing Desktop or anything else that tends to want to take over your browser and OS). 

As part of it’s Windows 7 Themes page, Microsoft provides a section called “RSS dynamic themes” (it’s cleverly hidden in the list on the left).  Unlike other (non-dynamic) themes, the actual download is just a small file that allows Windows 7 machines to download images using RSS.  It may take a few minutes for your first images to appear, but after that everything seems to work properly.  For example, I can right-click on the desktop and choose “Next desktop background” if I want to move on to something else.  Overall, it’s free and seems to work well (even in the Windows 8 Consumer Preview’s Desktop mode). 

Of course, there’s also a huge list of collections of other desktop wallpaper options if the dynamic ones don’t work well for you.  Perhaps when it comes to “interior decorating” for desktop machines, it’s the little things that matter.

Microsoft Virtual Event: The New Efficiency

If you’ve been following some of the latest keynotes and presentations from Microsoft, you’ve probably run into the theme of “The New Efficiency”.  Microsoft has been using this term to describe the benefits of Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2 and Exchange Server 2010.  While listening to presentations can be useful, it’s also valuable to spend some interactive time with other technical professionals and experts.  To that end, Microsoft is hosting another live “Virtual Conference” on October 27, 2009.  Visit the Event Overview page to see details of the virtual conference.  Here’s an excerpt that describes what’s covered and who will be presenting:

Join renowned Microsoft technologies expert Paul Thurrott, Windows IT Pro senior technical director Michael Otey, Exchange guru Paul Robichaux, and Windows IT Pro editor in chief Jeff James for an in-depth, spin-free deep dive into the new efficiency.
In just three hours, directly from your own computer, the keynote and three technical sessions will provide you with:

  • an overview of everything that Windows® 7 has to offer
  • a deep-dive into enterprise-oriented features such as AppLocker, Branche Cache, DirectAccess, federated search, and BitLocker to Go
  • a complete coverage of all of the new features and functionality brought by Windows® Server 2008 R2, including Hyper-V virtualization with live migration and PowerShell 2.0
  • an in-depth presentation of the rich user experience, the many deployment options, and information protection and control capabilities offered by Microsoft® Exchange Server 2010
  • a clear understanding of the ways Windows® 7, Windows® Server 2008 R2, and Microsoft® Exchange Server 2010 work better together

This event is presented in an interactive, real-life simulation! You will experience a lifelike visual environment, networking and interactive tools, staffed sponsor booths, and educational chats to complement each conference session.

I’ll be available to answer technical questions in the Microsoft booth during the morning sessions (from 9:30am to around noon Central time).  Feel free to stop by and ask questions or view the materials and presentations that are available online.

For more details, see the Agenda and Speaker Info pages.  Be sure to Register – it’s free, and you don’t have to leave the comfort of your home or office to attend. 

Can your computer run Windows 7?

With the official consumer release of Windows 7 just a few days away, a lot of people are probably wondering whether their computers will be able to run Microsoft’s newest OS.  Potential issues include device drivers, hardware, software, and user settings.  The free Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor Beta can help you answer these questions quickly an easily.  The process couldn’t be much easier: Just install and run the Upgrade Advisor (it runs on Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7).  The utility will take a few minutes to run and will then return a report like the one below (assuming you’re running a fairly current desktop or notebook computer).


You can also view a list of system requirements and your current specifications:


For the most part, users shouldn’t have much trouble when upgrading to Windows 7.  The magnitude of under-the-hood architectural changes is much less than it was during the leap from Windows XP to Windows Vista.  And, third-party hardware and software vendors have finally caught up (for the most part) and are providing reliable drivers.

From my experience, Windows 7 seems to run about as fast as Windows XP (which means it’s much faster than Windows Vista).  I have upgraded numerous desktops and notebooks to Windows 7 without any problems that I couldn’t quickly and easily resolve.  I think it will be a worthy upgrade for most users, and the Upgrade Advisor should be able to provide some warnings related to potential problems before you take the plunge.

Virtual Event: The Business Case for Windows 7

If you haven’t had a chance to work with Windows 7 yet, or if you’re wondering what’s in it for business users and administrators, you’ll probably benefit from attending an upcoming virtual conference.  The “conference” will take place entirely online.  Using a browser, you can access a pretty slick online UI that allows you to do “real” conference stuff. 

The InformationWeek Business Technology Network is presenting a virtual event titled The Business Case for Windows 7.  As the name implies, it focuses on ways in which corporate users and administrators can benefit from switching to Microsoft’s newest OS (which is scheduled for general availability on October 23rd).  Here’s a description of the conference from the event’s web page:

Business Case for Win7

The Business Case for Windows 7
Microsoft’s launch of the Windows 7 operating system is one of the most anticipated technology introductions of this year, and enterprises both large and small are evaluating the benefits – and weighing the challenges – of migrating to the new platform. In this virtual event, attendees will have the opportunity to engage with and learn from the developers of Win 7, the testers who put it through its paces, and peers who are considering taking the plunge.  Experts will discuss the product’s features, performance issues, security and management processes, compatibility concerns, and more.

You can sign up to attend the virtual conference using the Registration Page

At the virtual conference, you can talk to people at virtual booths, ask questions to technical experts who are available live, and download videos, webcasts, white papers, etc.  Microsoft, Thawte, and Global Knowledge are among the sponsors.  I’ll be present tomorrow (Sept. 30th) to answer questions in the Microsoft booth.  The virtual conference will go on for two days and contains numerous events and keynote presentations.  Be sure to stop by – it certainly beats the time, cost, and frustration of having to travel to real conferences.

Windows 7 UI Enhancements for Power Users

While there are benefits to being a highly technical “power user”, it can also come as a drawback in certain situations.  No, I’m not talking about being the de facto “Tech Support Provider” for friends and family…  It seems that many O/S’s are designed for the “lowest common denominator” user, and we techies are left with having to install hacks, reconfigure default settings, and to search for third-party utilities that fill in the gaps.  Products such as Mac OS X (with it’s one default mouse button and many missing keyboard conveniences) might work well for basic tasks, it leaves a lot to be desired.  I was disappointed that Windows Vista’s “new” desktop didn’t provide much in the way of productivity-enhancing features. 

Well, Windows 7 is about to hit the stage, and it looks like a winner from a usability standpoint.  A simple web search will return dozens of articles that look at many of the UI changes and improvements and blogs like Engineering Windows 7 go into some of the decision decisions in significant depth.  Rather than repeat the content of those articles, I’ll briefly highlight the features I’ve enjoyed most during my past few months with Windows 7:

  • The new taskbar: There are also some features that might not be readily evident.  For example:
    • You can see icons for all of your most-used programs, whether they’re running or not.  They’re always right where you expect them, which really saves time when you have a bunch of different programs open at the same time.
    • Applications can support jump lists, recent documents, and other special features that are available by hovering over an application icon or right-clicking on it.  Apps such as IE already support this quite well.
    • You can easily dock the Taskbar to the left, right, top, or bottom of the window.  In fact, this even works properly with multiple monitors.  So far, I have stuck with the standard bottom-of-screen layout, but I have tried docking it to the left, and it works well.
    • Windows7Taskbar

  • Improved multi-monitor support:  Windows 7 makes it much easier to work with multiple monitors but allowing you to quickly drag windows (even when they’re maximized) to other monitors.  In fact, my eVGA USB-to-DVI adapter is working great on Windows 7 (though I did need to download and and install the beta drivers manually).
  • Keyboard Shortcuts for Window Management: Using intuitive keyboard shortcuts is far more effective and efficient than using the mouse to arrange windows.  For example, think of all the work it typically takes to view two windows side-by-side (I never bothered to try it manually and relied on third-party utilities like DisplayFusion to help).  Using the Windows Key in conjunction with the arrow keys allow you to maximize, minimize, and move windows to any part of any monitor.  This alone saves a lot of time and really takes advantage of my three-monitor setup.  Finally, you can use Windows Key – # to open the appropriate program or folder on your computer based on its located on the taskbar. 
  • Overall Stability:  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I had been quite disappointed with Windows Vista’s performance and reliability (even after applying both service packs).  On the whole, Windows 7 responds much more quickly and the desktop, UI, and applications are completely reliable.  In fact, I typically reboot my computer (which runs a ton of development stuff) once a week or so.
  • New wallpapers and desktop themes: Sometimes, it’s the little(r) things that count the most.  Windows 7 ships with a great collection of default themes and backgrounds.  And, you can also download many more from the Windows 7 Personalize Your PC site.  The download process is seamless and I hope Microsoft will continue to add content frequently (as opposed to the rather missed opportunity with Windows Vista Ultimate Extras).  Furthermore, the UI improvements for switching between desktop settings has been streamlined, making it simple to make changes without third-party utilities.
  • Sidebar Gadgets: They can now be placed anywhere on the desktop and seem to use fewer system resources (just a subjective observation – I haven’t done any testing).  Unfortunately, there’s still a relative dearth of useful gadgets, but hopefully that will finally change.
  • Expanded right-click menu:  Hold SHIFT and right-click on a file or folder to see some useful new options, such as “Open Command Window Here”.  You could enable this feature in XP/Vista, but it required a Registry change and would always appear in an already long list of options.
  • ClearType and Color Tuner: Matching colors on multiple monitors has always been a pain.  While drivers from Nvidia and ATI allow you to change RGB values, these settings never seemed to “stick” for me.  Windows 7 includes built-in functionality for handling this, and it seems to work.  Better yet, it efficiently supports a multi-monitor setup.


Overall, I think Microsoft has done a great  job of balancing usability for less-technical users with the features that those of the geekier persuasions can appreciate.  I have (against some practical warnings and advice) switched to using the Windows 7 Release Candidate as my primary O/S.  I’ve run into very few problems so far.  So… which useful features have I missed?