Stupid Windows Tricks – Taskbar Labels

I actually stumbled across this setting recently, and it reminded me of a Windows “throwback”.  It seems to simple, but I forgot that things actually used to be like this.

Somewhere along the way, probably with Windows 7, Microsoft started to try to utilize the taskbar space more efficiently.  With that, you saw the use of combined taskbar icons, meaning that if you had three separate documents opened in Word, you’d see a single Word icon in the taskbar, but see that there were icons/instances “combined” underneath it and also the text label for the icon was hidden or collapsed.  This saves screen real estate, but can make it harder to know what is open at a glance.

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Upgrading a Dell Venue 8 Pro to Windows 10

If you’re unable to get the automatic upgrade for Windows 10 to work with your Dell Venue 8 Pro, try using the Microsoft media creation tool to get there.  Depending on how much free space you have, an SD card may be required for the download to be stored.  The media creation tool will prompt you if you’re short on space for this operation.

For my upgrade, I opted to have the media creation tool and Windows 10 setup wipe everything so I could start fresh.  Since all of my important files, pictures, etc. are sync’d online, I wasn’t concerned about the loss of any local content.  This is probably not the case for most people, so back up your files before you start.  Note that although this was written with the Dell Venue 8 Pro in mind, this process works on an activated Windows 8.1 setup as well.  The key is it must be an activated instance of the operating system, or the tool will prompt you for the appropriate product key.

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What to do when SkyDrive takes a faceplant

I have a number of machines that synchronize with SkyDrive.  Last week, things went sideways and one of my machines was reporting errors and quit synchronizing.  After the next reboot (which naturally fixes most issues), the SkyDrive application would initialize, trying to start processing the changes, and then do a faceplant in the form of a crash and generating an event in the event log like this:


This looks and sounds bad.  I wasn’t sure how to resolve it, but it’s actually pretty simple.  There is a catalog or index of everything that is synched and it is stored on each machine in a hidden location.  You need to delete that file and restart SkyDrive.

After doing some searching, I found a thread on the Microsoft Help forums.  It’s as simple as deleting %localappdata%\Microsoft\SkyDrive\settings\3e2972b1aa909a0c.dat.  After you delete that, restart the SkyDrive client and you should be back in business.

Windows 8 in 3 minutes

Quite honestly, having been in the TAP for Windows 8 and having logged a lot of time using the product, I was frustrated because I felt lost when it came to finding something or executing a task.

I shy away from the “Start” screen, the screen you see after you’re logged in to Windows 8.  As with a lot of people who have used the product, I saw this screen as something only useful to those who were running a tablet, and I found myself never leaving the “Desktop”, and trying to run Windows as I always had since the beginning.

I’m trying to get better at it, after all, I still use it everyday.  What I maybe find the most frustrating still, is the feeling of “who moved my cheese.”  It’s interesting I felt that way, cause at first, Scott Hanselman felt the same way.  Scott has a huge following in the development community, so I was interested to hear what he had to say about it.

About a week ago, Scott posted a video that intends to teach you the basics, or at least what you need to know (and understand to make sense of it) to get around Windows 8 on your desktop (not necessarily a tablet, Surface, etc.)

Scott’s blog post does a great job of covering the main aspects from a user perspective.  He also has a video (you’ll find that in the blog post too) that he created that gives you what you need to know about Windows 8 in 3 minutes.

Thanks to Scott for this valuable content.  I started my search this morning looking for “intro to Windows 8”, and this was by far the best find.

If you’re an IT Pro, or someone that manages (or will be managing) Windows 8 in your environment, then check out this free eBook from Microsoft Press which provides an introduction to this new OS.

Is Your PowerShell Slow to Start?

I ran into a scenario last week where we had loaded the Compellent Storage Center Command Set for Windows PowerShell on a server.  When we launched the shell shortcut, the window opened but took a long time to get to a PowerShell command prompt.

So, what causes slow start-up when loading PowerShell?

The most common reason seems to be that machines experiencing this slowness are not connected to the Internet.


Well, when Since PowerShell is loading the Compellent Command Set DLL externally, .NET has a security feature to check Microsoft’s CRL, or Certificate Revocation List.  This process verifies the authenticity and validity of the software publisher’s certificate.  If this check can’t reach the Internet, the process will time out after several minutes.  Now, this doesn’t prevent anything from loading (which seems odd), but it takes a couple minutes for a process that should take only a couple of seconds.

The easiest resolution at this point appears to allow Internet access to the server.  If that is not possible, you can disable the check for the publisher’s certificate revocation.  You can do this from Internet Explorer (or Control Panel, Internet Options) by clicking on Tools, Internet Options.  Under the Security section of the Advanced tab, uncheck “Check for publisher’s certificate revocation”.


NOTE: These type of security features are in place for a reason.  Take extreme caution when considering disabling these.

Hidden Windows 7 Themes

I came across this one this week.  Did you know there are a few hidden themes built-in to Windows 7?  They’re in a hidden directory, so you’ll have to type their path directly or use search with the option to location hidden files or folders.

If you navigate to C:\Windows\Globalization\MCT you’ll find several different directories.  Inside of each of those folders is a directory called “Theme”.  If you open that folder, you’ll see a .theme file which you can double-click to activate the theme.  My favorite is the UK theme.

Microsoft Web Platform Installer 2.0 RC

If you haven’t checked it out, do it now.  The Web Platform Installer makes your life a lot easier, especially when it comes to installing and configuring applications like WordPress on your own server.

I provisioned a new Windows 2008 R2 Web Server and needed to move my websites off of an old 2003 server and on to this new box.  In the past, installing mySQL, PHP, and other required components to get WordPress to work properly on a Windows server was a huge pain, that is, until the Web Platform Installer came along.

A number of applications have decided to use the WPI.  Applications like WordPress , DasBlog, Visual Studio Express products, and even SQL 2008.  You click through an interface, select the stuff you want to install, enter the requested config info, and the WPI takes care of the rest.  I actually used it to install WordPress flawlessly today.  It identify pre-reqs and other requirements and makes sure you have what you need before it gets started.

You can read more about, and download the Web Platform Installer here.

Remote Server Administration Tools (RSAT) for Windows 7

Not that all my desktops and laptops are running Windows 7, I wanted to get the newest tools for administering my Windows environment, including Hyper-V.

It took a little bit of searching, and a lot of the search results pointed to the beta tools or the RSAT for Windows Vista, neither of which will work with the released version of Windows 7.

So, if you’re looking for the link, here it is:

From there, you’ll find the direct download links to both the x86 and x64 versions of the tools.  Happy administering!

Checking Partition Alignment with PowerShell

Here is an easy way to determine the partition alignment of any given disk on the local system or remotely.

This will output table that looks like this:


Why should you care about this?  This is particularly useful for determining partition alignment of existing disks that may be running applications like Exchange or SQL.  Exchange recommends a 64K partition alignment as does SQL in most cases.  In Windows Server 2008, partition alignment is automatic and defaults to 1024KB for new partitions. Note that the alignment of partitions on servers that were upgraded from Windows 2003 to 2008 are not changed.

Are The Technology Gaps Ever Filled?

First and foremost, I am a Windows user. I have been forever. I was a “blue badge” so I was very much a “fanboy” of Microsoft from the platform to desktop apps to mobile devices and still pretty much am. I have also opened my eyes to other computing technologies like the Mac and iPhone.

I used to try to make my Microsoft software work the way I wanted in every case. There really wasn’t any other solution. I have moved away from that thought process, and accepted that some other technologies do the job better.

Take Windows Mobile for example. I owned no less than 10 devices in a matter of less than five years because I thought that the issue had to be the device, not the platform. Last year, I finally purchased an iPhone. I absolutely love this device and it will take me a long time to go back to Windows Mobile. Perhaps if Microsoft controlled the hardware platform for Windows Mobile devices, they might share the same success that Apple has had.

I also have a MacBook Pro, which runs virtualization software so I can run Windows. Since most enterprise companies still use Windows as a primary platform, I too still use Windows for 95% of my work-related business. I have had few issues with the Windows platform for the most part; I was even a fan of Vista. I didn’t see all of the same issues that caused droves of people to jump on the anti-Vista bandwagon. I still prefer Vista to Windows XP, a sentiment that isn’t shared by many. But at the end of the day, I run it on my MacBook. I do most of my blogging from a Mac now, I get all of my newsfeeds on the Mac, and Twitter too! Bottom line, a lot of Mac apps offer better stability and robustness compared to their Windows counterparts. Whether this is related to the platform or just bad coding, that’s a topic for a different day. Microsoft wins at a lot of battles – I favor Visual Studio and Office 2007. Those have been solid, just as a lot of the server apps like Exchange, SQL, and SharePoint.

Since I have had my Mac I have looked for ways to synchronize files and folders. Between my Macs would be fine, but across platforms would be even better. Apple’s MobileMe is a nice solution, although I don’t believe $99/year is worth what it gives me. Yesterday I was searching around for file sync tools on the Mac again and came across Microsoft Live Sync. I’ve used Live Sync for file storage on the PC side, but I was surprised to find that a Mac client was available. I installed it on both of my Macs, as well as my Vista laptop and work laptop too. I started syncing folders and they appeared across the platforms. Amazing! (and free too).

Looking further, I started digging into Microsoft Live Mesh which bridges the gap for connected devices allowing them to sync files and access their desktops all over the Internet. This provides the ability to access applications on one system that might not be available on another. Better yet, Mesh incorporates mobile devices and Macs. File synchronization is great across platform, but I wish I had the ability to remote control my Mac from one of my Live Mesh PCs. Since the remote control uses an ActiveX control in the browser, this is not possible on the Mac, but bringing a Java applet into the mix might take away this barrier.

I would say that in the last 2-3 months, Microsoft has introduced some very interesting technologies like Bing and Live Mesh (beta). Bing is closing in on it’s Google competition, and I have even started using it as my primary search engine. We’ll see how the landscape changes when Google finishes their open source OS.

So, with all this being said, it’s really not about being an Apple Fanboy or a Microsoft Fanboy, but more-so about who delivers the best solution for the problems at hand.