Removal of F8 a good example of why I hate Windows

Caveats

I don’t use Microsoft Windows at home. I did at one time – I ran Win3.1 and 3.11, Win95, Win98, Win98SE, WinNT4, WinXP, and still use Windows Server and Win7 on occassion at work, but in 1997 I switched over at home to running Linux, then in 2001 switched to OSX, then FreeBSD briefly, and then back to Linux for all of my machines. So for personal use I really haven’t used Windows exclusively since WinXP, even my desktop at work runs Linux and while I do use a Win7 laptop for work purposes on occasion, I’m routinely frustrated by its shortcomings. Also, lets be clear that Windows 10 is really just Windows 8.1 which is really just Windows 8, which is really just Windows 7, etc…

Between my personal choices and running a corporate network, I haven’t had to deal with Windows 8 or 10 very much. Windows 8 died out of the gate and Windows 10 is different enough that some older softwares aren’t supported on it. The version of the ERP system we use to run most of the business functions does not support Win10 and since upgrading the ERP system to a version that is supported is not budgeted for at this time and would be massively expensive, almost all of our machines are still running Win7. I would bet many businesses are in a similar situation. Upgrading all the machines we own to Win10 will be a massive undertaking even if the upgrade is free (our desktops are Pro not Enterprise). Even if we didn’t run into any software problems during an upgrade (the ERP system is just one of the many quirky programs used at the facility) there would certainly be a re-training period for users which is also a cost.

Reality is, I’m going to have to deal with it

However, now that its getting difficult to buy new machines with anything other than Win10, Microsoft has made some inroads on our network even if we have no desire to move to this new version of their OS. A sales person who needs a new laptop ends up with Win10, an engineer who needs the latest and greatest gets Win10, a desktop machine which only needs remote desktop access to the ERP dies and gets replaced with a Win10 machine… and there is always the “threat” hanging over us that at any time Microsoft might decide to push the upgrade out to domain users through some Windows update change and we’ll be left with users in production with critical apps not functioning properly.

I have to admit that I personally really do not like what I’ve seen of Win10 so far at all – its basically Win7 with an ugly interface slapped on to replace the start menu but the real security nightmare which is Win10 should scare the hell out of anybody who values privacy. By default, every single thing you type and every website you visit are sent to Microsoft (and thus, available by the government) and whoever happens to hack into the servers storing that information. But the worst thing (to me) is that even though most of the underlying Win7 is still available in Win10, it has been hidden and obfuscated, seemingly for no reason. Simple things that have worked since 1996 in Windows no longer work as they always have done, and now I have to waste time re-finding these things, and remembering both (in order to support both).

Dealing with problems

In Linux the GUI (graphical user interface) is something obviously separate from the operating system. If a problem occurs in the GUI you can almost always get to a command prompt to attempt a fix, a lot of the times without requiring a reboot. In Windows, there really is no longer any underlying command line mode – the command prompt provided in Windows since WinNT is no longer the underlying DOS of old, it is an emulated DOS running on top of Windows so the only way to interact with the OS is via a GUI. If your GUI fails, you have to rely on Microsoft’s Repair mode which, for most users means booting from the Windows installation media (still have that disk?) since almost no one has bothered to install these tools to the hard drive. Also, this is pretty heavy handed stuff and probably beyond most casual users to attempt.

When running into a problem, before resorting to Repair Mode most of us would try to boot Windows into “Safe Mode” which boots a stripped down version of Windows, bypassing third party drivers. A lot of times its a driver that is the problem anyway. Anyone who has had to troubleshoot Windows over the years is familiar with hitting F8 at boot and selecting “Safe Mode” or “Safe Mode with Networking”.

Using F8 to get into Safe Mode

In order to make Windows boot faster, Microsoft introduced a new boot loader in Windows 8. In so doing, they removed the F8 option to boot into “Safe Mode” The problem is that all of the methods Microsoft provides for you to get into “Safe Mode” now assume that your machine has booted up. One way is to run msconfig and check the box for safe mode and reboot.

This method is of no use if I can’t boot Windows.

Here’s another method (compare these steps to hitting F8 at boot time):

click Windows (or Win key)
hold down shift
mouse over Shut down to get flyout menu
click restart
Restarts to Advanced Configuration menu
click Troubleshoot
click Advanced Options
click Startup Settings
choose Safe Mode

So a bunch of steps, and of course doesn’t work if you weren’t able to boot up to begin with!

There is a way to restore F8 functionality at boot, but again, you’ve got to set this up before you need it or you will end up using Repair:
bcdedit /set {default} bootmenupolicy legacy

So as a network admin, thats an option we’ll want to push out via a login script to Win10 boxes I should think. No idea if thats going to work or if there are any gotchas with it. I’m more interested in just moving all users to remote desktop so the client OS doesn’t matter at all – in fact, they could all just run Linux.

My argument

In their rush to build a great consumer OS, Microsoft seems to be making it more difficult for their biggest install base – corporate domains. This is just one example among many of a change that was made to make the OS experience “better” for an end-user while simultaneously making it harder for support folks to keep it running. If it wasn’t so prone to failure (and usually at the worst times), I wouldn’t care so much about these little things – but inexplicable failure of Windows is almost a guaranteed eventual outcome. I could write a column about these things every week and have something different to harp about for a whole year!

Maybe next time we can discuss “User Profile Service Failed the Login” a type of failure that has been happening in Windows since forever, (this morning I had it happen to a Win10 user on another domain in another state) and yet it seems to keep happening in every great new version of Windows!

Microsoft Surface Pro

Right before I left tonight a consultant we work with on occasion was in and showed me his Win8 tablet and some of the stuff he’s been working on.  The software doesn’t look terribly different from his older stuff just formatted for the touchscreen, but what I was interested in was his tablet.  Although he didn’t say so, it looks like the Surface Pro which is the Microsoft tablet that has a desktop class processor in it (which means it competes against laptops as opposed to the slower ARM based Surface RT which competes more with the iPad and a slew of android tablets.  The two models are discussed in this article. My first thoughts follow…

Continue reading “Microsoft Surface Pro”

Not “cool” enough for a Mac?

So Microsoft finally has an ad running that makes some kind of sense. They toss “Lauren” $1,000 to buy a computer and tell her she can keep whatever is left over. At the end of the ad she says that she “got *just* what she wanted”, so then why exactly did we see her go to the Mac store first? This ad is the latest in a mess of PC vs Mac ads that finally scores some points on the PC side, because she couldn’t afford a 17″ Mac laptop but ended up getting money back on a 17″ PC laptop. Sad, but true – the 17″ Mac laptop is a lot more expensive. The thing that leaves me scratching my head is that Microsoft doesn’t make laptops! From a business perspective, how does spending $1,000 to get somebody to buy your $100 product make any sense? If they were to continue this promotion and they gave *me* a thousand bucks to buy a new computer, you know I’d buy a PC too – but then of course, I’d put Linux on it.

Microsoft: When a server is not a server

In one of the more embarrassing Microsoft stories I’ve heard in a while, Computerworld is reporting that Microsoft has issued a warning that editing files stored on Microsoft’s Home Server using any of a bevy of Microsoft programs (and potentially many non-Microsoft programs) may corrupt those files! Home Server was Microsoft’s (inept, we find) response for the home and small business market to the growing popularity of NAS (network attached storage) for backing up the huge amount of digital detritus we are all accumulating.

https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/kb/946676

Microsoft’s voice non-recognition

This embarrassing video showing a Microsoft Vista voice recognition feature demonstration gone awry brought me back. Microsoft is blaming ‘ambient noise’ for the snafu, but having personally set up and used Dragon Voice recognition software for my boss who used it for several years (and that was several years ago now), this is truly horrible stuff. Dragon, an English company, could recognize my boss’ *very* heavy 1940’s-esqe New York Irish fireman’s accent better in about 5 minutes than Microsoft’s product could understand a clear-speaking, neutral voiced demonstrator who probably trained with it for hours beforehand. Very sad.