Tags: microsoft

Upgrading from Windows Home Server to Windows Server 2012 Essentials

A couple of weeks back I started the upgrade from Windows Home Server to Windows Server 2012 Essentials. I never bothered moving to Windows Home Server 2011, the lack of Drive Extender was the deal breaker for me. But with WHSv1 falling out of support, it had to be done, that plus all the drives were almost full, which was having a noticeable impact on performance sometimes, so time to do something about it. Plus getting something a bit more modern was much desired!

For background I put together the current box from an Asus T3-P5G31 around 2008 or 2009, does the job nicely, small and compact. Only downside is there's only space for two 3.5 inch drives, I have a third in the 5 1/4 inch bay. I was running it with a 1TB, 1.5TB and 2TB drives.

First up Windows Server 2012 Essentials isn't cheap, it is insanely expensive to use as a home server, at around ten times the price of WHSv1. But as someone who has run a server at home since Windows 2000, hosting commercially successful websites from it, along with Small Business Server 2003, just so I could get push e-mail to my phone, it was more a returning to the norm. But undoubtedly the price is a deal breaker, the product is clearly aimed at the small business.

I ordered two Western Digital Red 3TB drives to go along with it. There was mixed opinion on the internet as to if the board with its ICH7 controller would support 3TB drives. So I ordered a Transcend PDC3 SATA board, to add 2 more SATA ports, and definite support for 3TB drives, if the on-board controller didn't. Also added 2 USB 3 ports, juicy bonus, or so I thought, more on that later.

Before doing the install, I backed up all the data onto one of the 3TB drives by plugging it into another machine and copying everything over the network. Data safe, ready to go to work.

I ended up installing the system on an old 500GB drive I had lying around, then using the two 3TB drives to mirror data on the server - I ran into a setback when Storage Spaces had to wipe the data from a drive to use it in a Storage Space - d'oh, so I had to copy the data to another drive, and then back again after creating the Storage Space - adding about 20 hours to the process.

I then used the 2TB and 1.5TB drives together in a simple volume to hold File History backups, and also image-based backups. So yes, I have two drives sticking out of the case, but I needed the storage. Alternatively you could run with USB drives in nice tidy enclosures, but I don't need tidy.

I had already tested it out in virtual machines so had few unexpected surprises. It installed without a hitch.

By default the connector software joins the client machines to the domain, I don't need this and run my home network as a workgroup, there is a workaround. Run the following on an elevated command prompt before installing the connector software:

reg add "HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows Server\ClientDeployment" /v SkipDomainJoin /t REG_DWORD /d 1

Boom, joins the computer without messing with your local user profiles. It installs the Launchpad and Dashboard software, and away you go basically.

I however ran into some issues. The largest of which was the server becoming unresponsive after about 12 hours, upon closer inspection it seemed the Transcend SATA card's USB driver had a memory leak! Luckily I'm not using the USB ports, so I disabled the driver. This is something you should be aware of if you're using this card in a similar setup.

The following minor issue is the connector installation adds a service that periodically changes your DNS servers to your server, if you need to prevent this from happening you can disable the service (Windows Server LAN configuration).

Lastly clients seemed to forget their network credentials every session, this would prevent File History from running unless you accessed the server and entered them again - it seems the Launchpad software changes the credentials from permanent to session only. Disabling the Launchpad software resolves this - there seem to be no major side effects - backups still run normally, but you lose server alerts, or trigger backups manually from the client (you can still do it via the Dashboard) - no big deal in my opinion. Presumably this is a side effect of running as a workgroup rather than a domain.

All in all no major problems, just be aware it is way more expensive, and way more complicated to setup, well relative to Windows Home Server, certainly not compared to older versions of Windows Server. But alas it seems the Home Server market has been abandoned by Microsoft, however Windows 8 Pro does support Storage Spaces, so using Windows 8 on a home server isn't unreasonable, in fact it's very possible.

And yes my Terraria and Freelancer servers continue to operate normally from it!

How the Windows Store handles traditional desktop applications

One of the key advantages to the Windows Store which many people overlook is the ability to showcase existing desktop software. The Windows Store doesn't only deal with metro/RT/modern applications. It can show all the existing stuff, if their publishers use it.

Desktop apps listed in the Windows Store

Here's Age of Empires Online listed. It also quite clearly is listed as desktop app. Hopefully to avoid any confusion.

Desktop apps listed in the Windows Store

Desktop apps listed in the Windows Store

Desktop apps listed in the Windows Store

The experience is much the same as for a WinRT application. Except of course you get pushed over to the applications website to install it, or to buy it. A seemless experience might have been better, like Steam. One can only imagine how long-winded and un-friendly some publishers websites are. Maybe next time.

Age of Empires Online website

Bing Desktop won't be automatically installed

Ian Bell over at Digital Trends caught my attention when he repeatedly claimed that some users who have Windows Update configured a certain way would get Bing Desktop automatically.

The article in question is a review of Bing Desktop - which is basically an application which places a search box on your desktop, along with the Bing image of the day as your wallpaper. Straight forward enough right, they take some pot shots at it - they're a pretty anti-Microsoft website. The author of the article however accurately stated that it is an "optional" update.

Digital Trends CEO, however commented several times on the article:

It's not optional for everyone. There is an option to have Windows automatically add ALL updates when they are available. Its the first thing Windows asked on a new computer. So some people are getting it installed whether they really want it or not.

The problem I have with this is how Microsoft is pushing it to users. Some people have Windows setup to automatically install ALL updates. Well, this isn't an update, its a new feature and it shouldn't be pushed to consumer desktops through this manner. Shame on Microsoft for getting desperate here.

Oh, and cant wait for some press release to come out next month saying that Bing has grown 2000% in the last month (since this update was pushed).

Nice.

And dead wrong. The guy lacks even the most basic understanding of how Windows Update works. Yet loudly proclaims his misconceptions as fact to further push his bias agenda.

Windows Update breaks updates into three categories.

Important - security fixes.
Recommended - bug fixes, updates to .NET Framework, etc.
Optional - extra things like language packs, Bing Desktop, updates to Zune, Windows Live Essentials and device drivers etc.

There are several settings which control how updates are installed and if they're installed automatically.

Windows Update settings

Microsoft, wisely recommend that important updates are installed automatically. You can also, if you opt-in, tell it to install recommended updates automatically. Considering this is usually for bug fixes in Windows, and to update various optional components of Windows, this is usually a good idea.

There's also the option, again opt-in, for getting updates from Microsoft Update. If checked this allows other Microsoft software like Office, Zune, Windows Live Essentials and Bing Desktop in this case to use/appear on Windows Update to get their own updates seamlessly too or present themselves to end-users.

Under no circumstances are these optional updates ever installed automatically, nor is there any setting which in the slightest implies they are. The FAQ in Help and Support clearly states this:

You can set Windows to automatically install important and recommended updates, or to install important updates only. Important updates provide significant benefits, such as improved security and reliability. Recommended updates can address non-critical problems and help enhance your computing experience. Optional updates are not downloaded or installed automatically. For more information, see Turn automatic updating on or off and Change how Windows installs or notifies you about updates.

Quite clear. No Windows user will wake up one morning and have Bing Desktop sneakily installed on their computer, you need to make at least seven mouse clicks to tell Windows to download it, not counting the clicks required to finish installing it.

So pack it in with the baseless anti-Microsoft rhetoric.

Microsoft half-unveil Windows 8's new user interface

Yesterday, at the All Things Digital conference - usually something I avoid - Microsoft unveiled the new Metro style user interface for Windows. Optimised for touch, but compatible with a mouse and keyboard. Alarmingly applications that make sure of this user interface are written in HTML5 and Javascript. Hopefully Silverlight, and even WPF will make an appearance in the future.

It also looks like the Office team have finished their takeover of Windows, with Jensen Harris in charge of the video!

All in all I'm impressed with the direction they're going, I'd argue they could have done it sooner. They've had the key aspects in there for years, namely with Media Center from which Metro was derived. But now with Windows also being ported to low powered ARM devices it was clear a full-featured Metro style interface was needed.

Microsoft Safety Scanner, one to add to the toolbox

Here's one to add to your toolbox, especially for people who do a lot of consumer oreanted tech support. The recently released Microsoft Safety Scanner.

It's a self-contained anti-malware scanner, the kind which is handy to run off a USB drive to scan someone's computer. No installation or internet connection is required, as most sophisticated malware will block installations of known anti-malware and block internet access to various websites. But copies you download are only good for 10 days before you have to download a newer version.

Standard EULA.

Here it kindly reminds you that it is not a replacement for a resident anti-malware scanner. I'd recommend Microsoft Security Essentials for that.

Standard sort of options, quick scan, where malware is most likely to be located, complete and of course a custom scan.

Nice and simple. Like I said only draw back is you have to replace it every 10 days. With it using the same scanner as MSE and Forefront it'll undoubtedly do a decent job of things.

WorldWide Telescope, controlled by Kinect

With Microsoft shortly to release the Kinect SDK for Windows, its time for them to demo some of the stuff people could come up with.

Here it is controlling the awesome WorldWide Telescope which I've written about at length. In short every computer should have WWT installed. :-)

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