More on booting Windows PE from a USB flash drive

This content is 18 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

A few months back, I wrote about booting Windows PE from a USB flash drive. Early versions of PE didn’t make this very straightforward, but Microsoft UK’s James O’Neill has blogged about doing exactly this with Windows PE 2.0 in his article on getting started with Windows PE – it looks like it’s got a whole lot easier.

Hopefully, I’ll get some time to have a go at this soon.

Windows Vista product activation for volume license customers

This content is 18 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Working mostly with corporate clients has one significant advantage – I’ve largely been shielded from Windows product activation, as I’ve generally had access to volume licence keys (VLKs) – also known as volume activation (VA) 1.0; however with Windows Vista and VA 2.0, this looks set to change and there seems to be a lot of misinformation on the subject (e.g. rumours of enterprises having to run licence servers on Windows Longhorn Server, which is still a beta product and hence not recommended for production use). With that in mind, I thought I’d write a bit on the subject to (hopefully) clear up any confusion.

At a Microsoft event today, Microsoft UK’s James O’Neill was reluctant to discuss this (in my experience, Microsoft consultants and evangelists do tend to shy away from anything remotely related to licencing) but luckily I got chatting to Scotty McLeod from Perot Systems, who was extremely helpful and knowledgeable on the subject.

Scotty explained to me (and others) how the arrangements for corporate product activation will work. Basically, Microsoft has two systems for volume license customers:

  • Multiple activation keys (MAKs) will be made available, with each key valid for a defined number of installations. Activation will require contact to Microsoft servers and, once the maximum number of activations has been reached, the key will be prevented from activating any further copies of Windows. That sounds fair enough but these keys should be guarded closely (more closely than traditional VLKs) because if a key is leaked and administrators do install unofficially, Microsoft is unlikely to “unlicence” a machine. In effect, if you release the key and it gets misused, then it’s your problem!
  • Volume licence keys (VLKs) require that an organisation maintains its own key management server (KMS) – ideally two – to act as a proxy between Microsoft’s licencing servers and enterprise clients, validating and activating Windows Vista computers. Each client actively searches out an appropriate KMS for activation, which must occur within 30 days, retrying every 22 hours. If activation fails, then the installation will run in reduced functionality mode (RFM). Then, every 180 days, the Windows Vista computer will reactivate, with a 30 day grace period before reduced functionality mode is enforced. Effectively, Windows Vista machines will need to reactivate approximately every 6 months. Group policy can be used to control the warnings experienced by users.

So, when would administrators want to use MAKs and when would they use VLKs? MAKs only require activation once (unless there are a lot of hardware changes) and so are ideal for organisations with a dispersed user population that rarely contacts the corporate network. For the majority of users in most organisations that regularly connect to a corporate network then VLKs will probably be more appropriate.

There are some gotchas with VLKs though – for example, a multinational organisation with local purchasing policies will probably have many volume license agreements and will need to implement 2 KMS servers per territory. This is for two reasons:

  • To retain control and stop one territory from using all the licences purchased by another.
  • Because license prices vary globally and licencing terms generally prevent low cost licenses from one territory from being deployed in another.

KMSs also require Windows Vista or Windows Server codenamed Longhorn – with installation being performed via a script within the operating system installation (no GUI interface is provided). Fortunately, Microsoft also provides web-based reporting tools for VLKs, including computer names and how long is left until license expiry. One more positive aspect of the VLK arrangements is that if a licence is not successfully reactivated, then it returns to the pool – so if a laptop is stolen, then at least the licence will be returned within six months or so!

So, that’s Windows Vista product activation for corporate users in a nutshell. The Microsoft website has more information on VA 2.0 (as well as an FAQ) and there’s a My Digital Life article that also has information on the software protection platform (SPP), which is the version of product activation that users who are not subject to volume licence agreements will encounter.

Why Windows Vista doesn’t mean that XP is dead (yet)

This content is 18 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Last night, I wrote a post about how Windows Vista is finally here but that Windows XP users are long overdue a service pack. Well, having read it again in the cold light of day, I think I should add some clarification.

I’m not suggesting that organisations stick with Windows XP for an extended period (I believe that Gartner has suggested corporates wait until 2008 – although many organisations will have been looking at Vista for a while now and will be ready to upgrade before then). All I’m saying is “great, Vista is here, but we’ve been waiting for a service pack for XP for over 2 years and now you’re telling me it won’t be here until 2008”. After all, based on XP SP1 and SP2 release dates, we should have seen SP3 already and be looking at SP4 soon.

I also appreciate that even Microsoft doesn’t have infinite resources and that the Windows product group have been pretty busy with Windows Vista, Windows Server codenamed Longhorn, and keeping Windows Server 2003 SP2 on track. Maybe delaying service packs is Microsoft’s way of gently nudging us all towards Vista – after all they don’t want a repeat of the scenario where a report published in the summer of 2005 suggested that there were still more organisations using Windows 2000 than had upgraded to XP (3 and a half years after XP was generally available).

My personal view is that the majority of Windows Vista installations (at least in the first 12 months) will be from consumers and small-medium enterprises (SMEs). Many corporates will receive Vista on new hardware and downgrade to standard operating environments based on Windows XP and once these organisations do start to upgrade, I believe it will mainly be those with Windows 2000 PCs that move first. With that in mind, I figure that XP will be around for a while yet, regardless of Microsoft’s support lifecycle policy, which currently says that “Mainstream support will end two years after the next version of this product is released. Extended support will end five years after mainstream support ends”.

If Windows 2000 is anything to go by, then there will be many organisations running unsupported (or extended support) instances of Windows XP for a while yet.

Keyboard error

This content is 18 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Apple keyboards may look nice, but they do tend to highlight the dirt (most keyboards are pretty horrendous when it comes to hygiene but white and transparent plastic doesn’t really cover it up as well as beige or black) and after a few months of use, mine is looking pretty bad. It just got a whole load worse though when the CD-R pen that I was using (we used to call then OHP markers when I was younger!) leaked over the U, I and 9 keys. After removing the keys and spending about 30 minutes at the kitchen sink with washing up liquid and a scouring pad I’ve pretty much restored them to white (albeit with a faint trace of blue-black smudge) but if anyone has any tips for removing permanent ink from plastic then I’d be grateful to hear them.

In the meantime, Vincent McBurney has a tongue-in-cheek look at 10 tips for better keyboard hygiene.

Windows Vista is finally here… but Windows XP SP3 will be 4 years too late

This content is 18 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

They did it! Microsoft finally released Windows Vista to manufacturing today but I have to say I’m a little underwhelmed. Not with the Vista product, which on one level is a great achievement (although I’ve written before about how I’m struggling to find a compelling reason for corporate users to upgrade), but with the way that us Windows XP users have been treated in the interim period.

A few years back, in common with many IT Managers, I signed up to a Microsoft Select agreement including software assurance (SA), but we’ve had no operating system upgrades since Windows XP was launched in 2001 – 5 long years during which our agreements have long since expired (in fact, I left that particular company almost four years ago!).

Sure, we had a pretty major security overhaul in Windows XP service pack 2 (SP2), but that was over two years ago. Last year I speculated about the imminent arrival of Windows XP service pack 3 (SP3), only to be proved wrong and to learn that it was scheduled for 2007. Then, a couple of weeks back, Thomas Lee highlighted that this, long overdue, service pack is now expected in 2008.

I know that many organisations are still trying to swallow SP2 but 4 years to wait for a service pack is just too long (4 years is the expected period between major operating system releases, not a service pack – service packs should be shipped every 6-12 months and should consist of bug fixes, but not new functionality).

Windows Vista will soon be available to volume license subscribers and will soon be the standard for new PCs, but there will be many of us running Windows XP for quite some time yet. Sure, I can download a bunch of individual updates, but surely Microsoft can get a Windows client service pack out of the door sooner than 2008 (Windows Server 2003 SP2 is still scheduled for next spring).

Thanks Microsoft, for your valiant efforts to ship Windows Vista. It’s been a long time coming and I should really be pleased, especially as the media reports that future Windows releases won’t be so spread out; but now, for those of us who paid for SA that we never got the opportunity to use, how about another service pack that we don’t have to wait an age for…

Sun Fire x64 servers… maybe worth a look?

This content is 18 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Sun Microsystems would like me to use their x64 servers for my virtualisation platform (instead of the HP ProLiant DL585s that I’m currently using). Many of our conversations have been covered by a non-disclosure agreement so I can’t write much here, but the details of the current Sun Fire and Sun Blade x64 servers are in the public domain – and they are certainly worth a look.

I’ll need some pretty serious convincing to move away from our 100% HP ProLiant Windows server estate, especially as we use HP Systems Insight Manager for hardware monitoring and have had some issues in the past integrating hardware from other OEMs; however, the Sun servers do look pretty good – especially for anyone in the market for an 8-way server, where the Sun Fire x4600 is particularly impressive – I guess if HP had an equivalent box it would be called the ProLiant DL785. Sun also have 2-way servers (that would be positioned to compete with the HP ProLiant DL365) and a blade enclosure that’s broadly similar to the HP C-class blade enclosure, which I wrote about a few weeks back. Strangely though, there is a gap – with no 4-way equivalent to the HP ProLiant DL585. They all look to be pretty well engineered, with extra NIC capacity (4 ports as standard) as well as all the other features that could be expected on a modern server (management processor, redundant hot swap power supplies, separate airflows for components, etc.) and a service console port (something that administrators of Sun SPARC servers will have been used to for a while now). In fact, if I had any concerns, it would be about the delay in bringing new developments to market – for example the largest serial attached SCSI (SAS) hard disk drives current offered by Sun are 73GB, whereas some competitors have 146GB SAS drives available.

Sun are still a small player in the x86/x64 server space – but they are rapidly increasing their market share (revenue up 48% and market share up 0.7% year on year [source IDC]); however it should also be noted that market-leaders HP also saw modest growth over the same period. I’ll watch Sun’s progress with interest, and who knows, maybe soon I’ll be in a position to specify some Sun servers somewhere.