Category Archives: Windows

Windows (any version) related topics.

Chuwi Hi10 Plus | Award BIOS

Chuwi Hi10 Plus – A Surface on the cheap?

This all started in autumn last year: I had mandatory courses to follow and I was sent there with our recently hired Digital Curator.  There we met a young IT guy from the CGIE (The IT department of Luxembourgish education), who owned a Surface.  I don’t particularly get enamoured with Microsoft products, especially those that cost 1000€ and more.  Our Digital Curator, however, saw something in the device.

He’s been talking ever since buying one, or at least a functionally equivalent machine.  Since we share an office, I told him what I knew about the hardware and if I didn’t I looked it up, interpreted the results and explained him what to know.  Different CPUs, USB-C, screen resolutions.  All the questions that are difficult because they go in the nitty gritty details.  It was all about the hardware, I may not like Microsoft but if he wants a Surface or Surface-like device, it’s going to be Microsoft whatever I do.  A very interesting device I discovered while researching alternatives, was the Acer Switch Alpha 12.  Still I wouldn’t buy it at that price, since I have four laptops.

As a sidenote, I’m pretty sure that properly justified, he’s simply be able to get a Surface from work.  After all that’s why he wants one: for work.  My question, however, is whether you really need so much power for the kind of work he does.  We IT people all know that our machines are extremely overpowered for most of the mundane tasks.

Gearbest Chuwi Hi10 Plus order

Gearbest Chuwi Hi10 Plus order

Any way, I’m pretty sure my research online got the attention of some advertisement algorithms and I started to get ads for Surface like devices.  I sometimes buy stuff directly in China and one day my GearBest newsletter offered me a Chuwi Hi10 Plus for just shy over 155€, and they’d throw in the keyboard for free.  That last one was important, because when you buy Chinese, you better read what you get and don’t rely on the pictures.  Keyboards are usually not included with Tablet.  I thought it was a decent deal enough in order to give it a try.  After all, that’s basically what you pay for a cheap Android tablet without a keyboard.  Oh, and if you never dealt with the Chinese: these things are basically always on sale.  (When I looked up the links, the Tablet could be had for 164,30€ and the keyboard for 24,24€.  A worse deal than what I got, but still relatively decent).

Of course, you do not get Surface hardware for that price.  You get:

– Cherry Trail Atom x5-Z8300, which truly is the lowest of the low end.  Don’t let the “Quad Core” impress you, this thing has a Passmark in the order of a Core-based Celeron 867 and that is a dual Core CPU.
– Intel Graphics (aka, whatever Intel thinks it can get away with)
– Full HD 10.2″ touch screen
– 4GB DDR3
– 64GB eMMC disk
– An American layout magnetic-attached keyboard
– Dual boot Android RemixOS and Windows 10 Home

I would never have recommended anything like this to anyone, given my relatively bad experiences with Atom chips.

As with all Chinese orders, you wait….
Surprisingly short wait… 11 days, which is really good.

What surprised me more is that these constructors have really looked at packaging from high end hardware manufacturers like that fruity company.  The packaging was excellent, well designed and well thought out.

Chuwi Hi10 Plus Keyboard Case

Chuwi Hi10 Plus Keyboard Case

Chuwi Hi10 | Front

Unboxing the Chuwi Hi10 Plus, front side

Chuwi Hi10 Plus | Backside

Unboxing Chuwi Hi10 Plus showing the metal backside

Chuwi Hi10 Plus | Award BIOS

Chuwi Hi10 Plus booted into Award BIOS, attached to its keyboard

As for the hardware?  Wow… If there wasn’t the Intel logo on the back and the mandatory “QA OK” small sticker on the back, I’d have guessed it was an iPad.  The back is metal, it has a nice heavy feel and the finish is really nice.  The keyboard, has a nice velvety feel (like the Surface keyboards) have and it clicks effortlessly in on the tablet while making a nice protective shell.  The triangular stand system is a bit awkward, but I’m using it right now to type this report.  It works.  One thing that I found a bit sad, is that I found no way to use the keyboard as a protective shell and still use the tablet in tablet mode.  For two reasons: you cannot fold the shell in such a way that you can use the tablet as a tablet and not be bothered by the shell.  Even if you could, the keyboard tells the tablet to behave as a laptop (you can switch that in Windows 10 though).  I don’t know if this flaw is shared with higher end devices.  Fine, when I don’t use it: fold it in its keyboard, and just detach when you want to use it as a tablet.

Initially, I thought to just image the disk of the device in order to be able to restore it to the original condition whenever I wanted.  I was pretty certain I could do that, if I found a way to boot to a Linux distro.  The ports are basically MicroUSB and USB-C and a MicroSD card reader.  Formats in which I have no bootable media.  Doesn’t matter, I thought…

On boot you can easily get into the EFI Firmware, which is bog standard Award Firmware.  I just hit Escape when the Chuwi logo popped up.  The firmware hinted already that the configuration might be a bit complicated.  As bootable devices, it listed three times Android and once Windows 10.  Weird.  If you let it go, you get a nice boot screen showing the Android and the Windows logo.  Just select with mouse or keyboard whatever you want.  Windows it is then.  In typical Chinese style you do not get an Out of the Box (OOBE) experience, which are actually mandatory for OEMs if I recall correctly.  You boot into a pre-created “admin” user and get presented with your Windows 10 Home desktop.  I expected some Chinese crapware, but in reality it does look pristine.  Windows activated without any problem.  The mind boggles.

The partition dedicated to Windows 10 is 45GB large.  Not stellar, but 25B is usable, Windows 10 taking approximately 20GB.  I was curious on how the partitioning on a Android/Windows 10 computer would be.  Well, if you must know: Highly complicated.  Two EFI partitions, many small partitions.   Apart from the EFI partitions, the only things I can identify is the 9GB partition probably being the Android “Internal storage” (Android reports: 8GB), and the two Windows partitions.  Originally I thought of trying Linux, or something, but given this partitions scheme, I will never be able to set it back to anything resembling the original state.

Chuwi Hi10 Plus | Partitions

Screenshot of the Chuwi Hi10 Plus partitioning scheme

So, I used it a few days running Windows 10.  Frankly, Windows 10 is annoying.  It does push all kind of Microsoft Services on you.  For example, in the action center, there is an icon called “Notes”.  I thought: “Cool, a post-it” application.  Nope, it launches OneNote.  OneNote for which you need a Microsoft account, and on top of that is uninstallable (Well, unless you find the magical powershell incantation)  This kind of stuff is everywhere, and I truly have no idea how Windows users stomach it.
Another really annoying this is how Windows 10 uses gestures.  Whether it’s on the touchpad or the touchscreen, sometimes I just move in such a way that suddenly Windows minimuze, or resize or, disappear and I have no idea what I did.  I tried to figure out what exactly I did, in order to understand the gesture I accidentally invoked, but I don’t seem to be able to find any consistency.  I also have found no way to disable gestures.
Another thing that irked me was that if you touch the screen, sometimes (but not always) you see some kind of trail following your finger.  At first, I thought it was just me touching too heavily on the screen and making the LCD misbehave.  Not so.  Windows 10 does that.  It doesn’t happen on Android.
When in tablet mode, the on screen keyboard is weird.  You don’t have directional keys, which makes it very annoying when doing shell work (how the hell do you navigate in the history), but there is one thing worse: the on-screen numeric keypad follows the phone layout!  Not the traditional computer numeric keypad layout.  I have no words.  This is not a phone!

Windows 10 has an immature beta feel to me.   There is a lot of work to make it usable, at least in my book.  The combobox bug is still there by the way (In modern apps, you cannot press a letter to jump to the items starting with that letter).

A little word on touch screens.  I am surprised that you don’t see finger smudges as much as you’d expect.  Yes, when the device is off you see how bad it is, but in use, pretty much not at all.  I did see them when I had direct sunlight shining on the screen.  That said, the touch functionality is basically not used when using it as a little laptop.

As for just light working on the machine?  I’m surprised myself, but having HTML5-playback music clips running in Firefox, with 11 tabs open, while typing this in Notepad++, it doesn’t use all that much resources, as you can see in the screenshot.  Sure, the Core i machines I have, don’t even use 5% when doing similar tasks, but if the intended use case is too take notes, shoot a picture of an object/document for documentation and stuff like that.  More than sufficient.

The battery seems to be ok.  When I started writing this about two hours ago, it told me 9h of battery remaining.  Now it says a bit over 4h remaining.  We all know these predictions are too optimistic.  I can just extrapolate: I guess another two hours should be possible with that prediction.  Giving me a total of 4h.  Acceptable, but I expected a tad more.  Definitely not a full day of work.  Perhaps if you really just have an editor open or so…

System usage Chuwi Hi10 Plus

System resource usage with light work

All in all: It’s not a Surface, but the hardware is damn impressive, well built, and high quality for the price I paid.  If you know your needs, and a tablet/laptop hybrid is what you want, plus you don’t want to break the bank and understand you won’t be running Crysis on it, this is a good choice for a Windowd 10 based device.  If you need more power, get yourself a refurbished Lenovo X220, which comes at a similar price point with a whole lot more power and expandability, but you won’t get touch or a tablet.  If you want everything and money is no object, get the real thing.

I should really try the Android part next.


Note: I did not have a spell checker on this machine, so this document wasn’t spell checked

Using a SLIC license in a VM

SLIC licenses are interesting.  In my last post, I covered how you can get the SLIC installation medium for select HP machines.  Now, obviously, I went back to Linux, but it did open some experimenting opportunities using virtual machines.

Now, let’s be clear, my Windows needs are tiny and most are covered by a VM I run on my infrastructure and I connect using RDP+SSH.  I really just like to mess around and see where the limits of these things are.

So, back in Linux, I installed VirtualBox and looked how I could use the SLIC enabled license within a virtual machine.  Obviously, I need the installation medium, which I have in WIM format (look up the package wimtools on Linux: Invaluable for working with WIM images).  So, ignoring anything else, I used that installation medium to install Windows 7 Pro.  That worked fine, albeit it was a hassle to try boot from USB (Solution: Don’t. Boot from a second SATA disk containing an image of the USB).  It obviously wasn’t activated, and I though “VirtualBox Guest Additions will take care of it, right?”.  Well, no…

Googling around gave me the solution.  You can make your information from your firmware available to the machines running1.  Theoretically, you could use the following:

VBoxManage setextradata "DummyVM" "VBoxInternal/Devices/acpi/0/Config/CustomTable" "/sys/firmware/acpi/tables/SLIC"

(Where “DummyVM” is the name of your virtual machine)
It would be the most honest form, as you directly use the license information from the host machine.  It won’t work, though, because the rights of that table are readonly for root only.  No problem!  Everything is a file, so do simply copy the SLIC table and give yourself the rights:

sudo cp /sys/firmware/acpi/tables/SLIC ${HOME}/VirtualBox\ VMs/DummyVM/SLIC.bin ; sudo chown ${USER}:${USER} ${HOME}/VirtualBox\ VMs/DummyVM/SLIC.bin

At this point, you can tell VirtualBox to use the SLIC file:

VBoxManage setextradata "DummyVM" "VBoxInternal/Devices/acpi/0/Config/CustomTable" "${HOME}/VirtualBox VMs/DummyVM/SLIC.bin"

The path to the SLIC.bin file must be fully qualified.  Dispite my best efforts, I couldn’t get it to use relative paths.  Doesn’t matter as the vbox configuration file is littered with absolute paths.

Anyway, launch the Windows 7 virtual machine and it will be instantly activated.  It gets better though: cloning a COA (Certificate Of Authority) based Virtual Machine, will almost always trigger an activation, because normally cloning changes system-ids and MAC addresses.  Cloning this won’t, because Windows 7 thinks it runs on a machine that’s licensed based on the SLIC table.  Theoretically, but I didn’t try, it should not even complain when moving to a totally different host machine.

Starting from a clone, I investigated what would happen upon Windows 10 upgrade.  So, I launched the “Assistive Technologies Upgrade” and got Windows 10 Pro, fully activated running inside the VM.  I was still curious what would happen if I removed the SLIC file from that VM.  After all, under Windows 7, removing it would make it unactivated.  To remove the SLIC file from the VM execute:

VBoxManage setextradata "Dummy10VM" "VBoxInternal/Devices/acpi/0/Config/CustomTable" ""

The activation remained!

This is an upgrade, so perhaps I want a fresh install?  No problem.  Keep the Virtual Machine configuration as is, but delete the associated hard disk.  Create a new empty one, and hand the Win10 iso to the optical drive.  Boot, go through installer, skip license key.  Wait… a… long… time… and: Activated Windows 10 Pro.

Conclusion: neither SLIC, nor the hard disk are in the hash submitted to Microsoft.  Well, if they are, they do not count towards activation.  Oh, and the difference between a fully patched Win7 vs Win10 regarding disk usage?  Seventeen fucking Gigabytes!  Windows 7 patching eats storage for breakfast:

find /home/${USER}/VirtualBox\ VMs/ -name Win*.vdi -exec ls -sh {} \; | sed s/\\/.*\\///g
29G Win7Pro.vdi
12G Win10Pro.vdi

Reminds me, that I should write up on how to get a Windows 7 machine up to patch-level in minimal time.  It’s a nightmare frankly.


1 Source https://forums.virtualbox.org/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=43678&p=227455

Recovering an SLP license for an “OS-less” machine.

Marketing stickers

Microsoft Windows and Intel marketing stickers

Windows 10 is actually awesome. Not for the reason you think, but you’ll understand soon. You see, I got myself a second hand HP ProBook 4340s. Sandy Bridge i3, 4GB RAM, 320GB HDD. Nothing fancy. It’s a business machine and it’s in an excellent state, it was worth the 200€ I paid for it.

It was sold without operating system, which really is quite odd for a HP machine. I checked the spot, under the battery, where the COA (Certificate of authenticity) sticker should be and it wasn’t there. Now, one thing you need to understand about Windows licenses, prior to Windows 8, was that for each computer you get two types of licenses. The SLP license, and the COA license (The “sticker with the key”). The SLP is tied to the manufacturer of your computer and is some kind of “mass pre-activation”, which is done by the installation medium provided by the manufacturer. So, if every manufacturer would provide you with an installation medium, you would never actually need the COA sticker/license.  We all know you rarely get installation media.  You also need to understand that you can’t actually both at the same time: if you use the COA, you can’t use the SLP and inversely.
The COA is something like a “backup” license. You could use any OEM installation medium and activate your Windows. So, if you have a COA sticker, I could give you a Dell installation DVD (and I have a few of those), and you could install it on your Lenovo and while it wouldn’t activate, you could use the sticker to get it activated.  Alas, COA stickers fade (my fathers old Alienware has a totally unreadable COA) or get accidentally ripped off.  Both happen very often on laptops.
All this explains why Microsoft wanted to get away from this system quickly and went for firmware-tied keys from Windows 8 on: every Windows 7 COA sticker was a potential “pirate” installation.

Now, what made me suspicious that this machine wasn’t actually originally OS-less, was that it had the “Windows” sticker next to the “Intel i3 Inside” sticker. You know, the marketing ones that actually have no value and I usually remove any way. I have seen quite a few “true” OS-less machines, and I can assure you, there won’t be a “marketing Windows” sticker on those. So, after I did my initial Linux install for my usage, I took out the disk and slammed in a 160GB HDD that I had lying around. Next I installed Windows 10 Pro, on it while skipping the activation. At this point, I have a fully functional Windows 10 that simply isn’t activated. (I downloaded and burned the Windows 10 installation ISO using Linux, on the machine itself)

After Googling, I found out about “HP Cloud Recovery Tool“. I downloaded it, and ran it. It detected which machine I had (including serial number) and told me that it originally came with “Windows 7 Pro” and I could download it, including drivers.

Now, I do not know why, but it failed… several times. I don’t really know why, perhaps my 16GB USB stick was bad (doesn’t look like it), perhaps something else. What I do know for certain is that it downloaded something big. Very big. Well, I found a file called “650434-DN6.WIM” in %USERPROFILE%\AppData\Local\Temp [This is equivalent to %TMP%. Corrected: Originally I wrote “C:\Windows\Temp”] and a WIM file is nothing else than a certain kind of Windows image file. I copied it over to the desktop, and used 7Zip to extract the contents and… indeed… it looks like a Windows 7 Pro installation DVD. At that point I just ran the setup.exe in the extracted folder and it started installing Windows 7. Half an hour later, it booted in a clean Windows 7 Pro installation which was activated. This due to the magic of SLP.

At this point, I could have stopped, because… well, there I have it: a running activated Windows 7 and that’s basically the best that Microsoft has to offer. However, the legality of this installation is debatable. Windows 10 is the way to make your installation “legal”, in the sense it doesn’t need a COA any more and gets a digital entitlement.  Well, that isn’t hard… Use the “Assistive Technologies” loophole. After installing a network driver, I downloaded the Windows 10 Assistive Technologies Upgrade and ran it.

In the morning1, I had a shiny activated Windows 10 Pro waiting for me. So, by using only Microsoft and HP approved tools, I went from a machine with a missing COA, to a digital entitled Windows 10 Pro. You know, the one that “never expires” and doesn’t require stickers, license keys or anything. Just a hash stored by Microsoft. The installation has become indistinguishable from a totally legit machine (with COA ripped off, which… well happens in reality)

If you wonder: At this point I put back the 320GB disk and it is running Linux again. The 160GB disk has been formatted. Even if it’s free, I don’t want their junk. I just like a challenge from time to time.


1 I’m simplifying. In reality it took several, attempts to get through the Windows 7 “update hell” before the upgrade tool actually did what it needed to do. Never mind the upgrade tool cannot be interrupted and when it hung on 99%, I aborted it and I had to do it all again. Disable Windows Update in services before you even try the upgrade tool.

Daddy needs a new laptop

In pretty much all my conscious life, people have come to me for advice about buying new computers.  Often, they just ignored whatever I said and bought whatever they wanted and then asked whether it was any good.  To which I usually said: “Meh… Will do, you still should have listened to me”.

In the last few years, I have seen a certain trend though: People come to me and tell me “I’d like a new laptop, but it shouldn’t cost more than 400€”.  Fine, I get it.  Many people I know have children now, and they have other priorities.  This blog entry here is based upon a late night Facebook-Chat conversation, where I realized how very confusing and hard buying new hardware has become if you aren’t highly informed.  You know what? Even in this context, I’m not “highly” informed, just a bit better informed.

First of all, you need to realize that a computer is a complex machine, and it’s the combination of all parts that makes or breaks the performance.  In the low-end, there is actually only one part that you can vary and that is the CPU.  CPU stands for Central Processing Unit and you can basically call that “the thing that makes calculations”.  You might wonder how moving a window on screen is maths, but I assure you: it is.  Your computer can only do two things: calculate data and store data.  Everything you see and do on your machine is reducible to those two basic actions.  The “How” is irrelevant for this discussion.

So, back to my acquaintance.  I asked him what type of machine he now has.  It’s a Windows Vista-era machine (Still running Vista, I might add), sporting a Intel Core 2 Duo T7500, 2GB RAM and a 320GB Hard disk.  Given the information I have, I guessed, it was approximately bought in 2007 as a high-end laptop.  I can also tell you immediately that the main bottleneck here will be the 2GB of RAM, but that can easily be fixed with a 40€ upgrade and replacing the hard disk with an 85€ SSD will also give it a boost.  Add in a new battery and you might have infused it a bit more life, if it wasn’t for Windows Vista that is only supported until 2017.  However, is it actually “worth” upgrading this machine?  No.  Not if you can buy a decent new machine.  Can we buy a decent machine would be the next question…

That’s where a thought process of most people kicks in, that has been indoctrinated by our consumer oriented society:  This machine is eight to nine years old, a new one, even a cheaper one must undoubtedly be better.  In certain ways, that new machine is going to be better.  It will most likely use less electricity and have better battery life, but that’s not why you are replacing your machine, is it?  It’s because it’s not doing what you want it to do: it’s too slow for certain tasks.  So, given normal peoples workloads, you will want a faster CPU.  Let’s take a look at budget PCs.  The column called Prozessor means CPU and the one called Speicher means RAM.  Ignore the laptops ones tagged “Generalüberholt”, which means “Refurbished”.

First of all, you’ll notice that none of these machines have more than the 4GB RAM, albeit of a higher speed (which is mostly irrelevant, even though one can discuss endlessly about that).

The second thing you notice that many of them have a Celeron N3150 processor.  Of course, that doesn’t tell you anything.  It might be the best thing since sliced bread.  Also, never mind that CPU model numbers are horribly, horribly confusing.

So, how do we compare these CPUs?  Well, in honesty, you can’t!  Not really.  Mostly we use so called “Benchmarks”, which try to evaluate how quick a certain processor does a certain task.  Alas, some processor do well on task A, but badly on task B.  All benchmarks are pretty much artificial.  From my experience the “Passmark CPU benchmark” gives a quite decent indication on what to expect, but it’s no panacea since you need to be able to interpret results.  Still, I’m going by this.  Let’s look up the scores for the Core 2 Duo T7500 and put them side by side:  There you go: gut feeling correct 1522 > 1274, the T7500 is 84% of the speed of the Celeron N3150.  It’s faster!  Case closed!

Not so fast.  First of all, consider this: a low-end budget CPU, just barely beats the old high-end one (The N3150 is a year old, to be fair), which means you’re going to spend 400€ to get just a minimal speed increase?  Are you serious?  Furthermore, there is a detail that needs to be pointed out.  The T7500 has two cores, meaning two independent calculators.  The N3150 has four of them.  Four is better than two, so, case closed, the N3150 is better!
The thing is: more cores work best in cases where tasks can be split up, and that isn’t true for most tasks.  It’s worse: most user-oriented tasks aren’t like that at all.  So, the speed of a single core does matter and it matters quite a lot.  That’s the line marked “Single Thread Rating”, where you can see for the T7500 that it has a score of 764 versus 418 for the N3150.  For so called “single thread tasks” the T7500 is actually better, much better.

My biggest point is: You’re going to spend money for something that is not significantly better.  A midrange modern day Core i5 with 8GB RAM (example: Asus ZenBook UX303UA-FN121T ) will set you back the double of your budget, but will triple the performance compared to your old machine and you’ll have double RAM, which also has a positive impact.

Finally, there is one last thing I need to stress.  Many people think that computers get slower when they age.  I can think of a few scenarios where that is true (defective or dusty fan and a disk slowly getting bad clusters), but as a general rule: Your machine today is as fast as it was when you bought it.  What may have changed is the software you are running requires more power.  The solution to this is to do an analysis of your needs: What do I need?  List it.  Identify the software to do that and stick to that software and only that software.  It called “having a fixed feature set”, and it generally makes your computing experience more smooth.
If you’re running Windows, and haven’t done that, your machine might be loaded up with all kind of crap over time that you’re actually not using, but still is loaded.  The only solution is then to reinstall the machine, which usually requires specialist intervention. (So does the suggested SSD upgrade, by the way.)  If you feel adventurous, you might even try using Linux.  Talk to your local nerd about it, who might be closer than you think.

If there is one thing you should take away from all of this: Don’t just buy a new computer, because if you do without being properly informed, you might end up with something that isn’t as great as you’d thought it would be.  Or as the Romans already said: Caveat Emptor.

Seven to ten to seven

Seven to ten to seven

“Seven to ten to seven”

As you undoubtedly know, for now my recommendation about Windows 10 is: Stay put when you’re on 7, upgrade when you’re on 8/8.1. If you disagree, that’s fine: do what works for you. Of course, there is an “if”, namely, you’d better upgrade to 10 in order to secure the 10 upgrade for free before the promotion ends. As such, I’ve been a busy bee, taking Windows 7 machines, making an image of their disk, then upgrade and the revert to the 7 image.
Technically, you can upgrade to 10, ensure your machine is activated and then click the “revert to 7″ button in the “Upgrade” section somewhere. You have 30 days to do this. Now, personally, I prefer the “image-upgrade-restore” process because you do not know what Microsoft does when you click the rollback button. Is your machine hash flagged? Well, you get to say what you think of 10, but there is most likely not a human soul that will ever see these complaints.

Being more the Unix guy, I automated my work as far as possible. The automation consists of three parts: an imaging script and two windows scripts (reg and cmd). The first script is actually rather old and was originally written for other purposes: image newly bought PCs. It uses parted, so I assume that it should work on GPT partition layouts, but I have never tested this.

Now, to be entirely honest, you’re not going to manage to do the imagining without a little crash course on devices and the Linux command line. (Only tested on Ubuntu 14.04 LiveUSB. Dependencies are: ntfsclone, dd, dmidecode, hdparam and probably another few)
Basically, you’ll run it as following: sudo ./generate-image.sh /dev/sda
However, this assumes a few things: your working directory has my script, that in this working directory you have enough space to store the generated images and that the disk you want to image is /dev/sda (which it most likely will be, but I cannot say for sure). You also need to be sure that no partition of /dev/sda is not mounted. (Hey, now that’s something I could add to my script…)
When you run that script, it will create a directory based on your machines information, and will attempt to image the mbr (full and without partition table), and all partitions. For vfat it reverts to dd, for ntfs it reverts to ntfsclone and it generates a restore.sh script for your convenience for easy restoration. I’d say: cool, but you may think otherwise.

Nevertheless, I have decided to publish it here for the nerdier guys.

So, then you upgrade to 10, wait until it’s activated and that’s the last you’ll see from Windows 10.

Now, you boot back to your LiveUSB, go to the image directory the script created and run sudo ./restore and it will restore everything magically. If you want to use the backed up partition table, give any parameter (it’s a bit dumb, yes…).

When it’s all done… Reboot. You’re back to your Windows 7 machine as if nothing ever happened.

Now for the part any Windows user can do. The two scripts in the privacy.zip, are privacy.cmd and privacy.reg. The reg file you can just double-click, and it will essentially mark your machine as being “not interested in Windows 10, don’t bother me any more”. It disables GWX (the Windows 10 notification icon), disables the upgrade function, disables reservation and disables the fact that recommended updates are treated like important updates. This is important, because Microsoft used the “recommended” channels to push these -let’s just say “annoying”- patches to your computer.

The privacy.cmd script does something entirely different. If you haven’t been living under a rock the last months, you know that Microsoft pushed patches that adds a tracking services to your pristine Windows 7 installation. Now the script starts off with stopping that service, and then disabling it. I do this, because the uninstallation of the offending patches might fail for some reason. At least, then you’re sure the service is off. After it has done this, the script tries to uninstall the patches related to the Windows 10 upgrade and the tracking service.
Be advised, in order for the privacy.cmd script to work you need to run it as Administrator. Right click on it, then select “Run as Administrator”. It might take a while.
Congratulations, the nagging for the upgrade should stop, until Microsoft decides to push it as an important upgrade. After a reboot, you may want to manually mark these patches as hidden. Perhaps I should try to figure out, whether you can do that with a registry patch too.

Upgrade to Windows 10 or not?

Pit Wenkin asked me regarding my thoughts about upgrading to Windows 10 or not.  It ended up being a rather large post, so I decided to write it down as a blog post:

What do I recommend?  You’re asking this a Linux user.

For starters:
– If you are a Windows 8 user, do upgrade… Now… It is better than Windows 8.
– If you are a Windows 7 user, you are between a rock and a hard place.  Windows 10 is not better than 7, at least not in my eyes.  Windows 7 is end of life in January 2020 (Source: microsoft.com), which means security patches should come in until then.  However, your “Free” upgrade is only valid one year.  You have to upgrade NOW, or you are losing money.
– The reviews of 10 are generally positive, but… the arguments are always the same: it’s a Windows 8 underpinning (which, allegedly has a bit more “under the hood improvements”) with a more 7 like interface.  It’s still the ugly flat interface, though.  It always stops with “Hey, it’s free, you should take it”.  I personally find that one of the worst arguments for an upgrade.

Knowing this, you have to balance out the following:

  1. Will Microsoft keep their promise regarding EOL status of 7?  If we can see back in history, we know they won’t.  Both NT 4.0 and Windows 2000 didn’t get important security updates before their EOL because “it was too much work for the short time”.  The answer Microsoft could give is: Hey, Win10 is free, upgrade to that.  It would be a arsehole move, I admit, but look deep into your heart:  How much do you actually trust Microsoft?
  2. How long are you going to keep your device?  If you’ve got a machine and think you’re going to replace it anyway before 01/2020, you have no reason to upgrade (ignoring point 1).  Just keep on shrugging happily with Windows 7, and your new machine will be 10 anyway (or a Mac, please buy a Mac or ask me to install Linux!)
  3. Given point 2.  Keep in mind that machines have longer lifespans these days.  Even if you get a new machine every three years or so, it’s most likely going to have a life after your usage.  Which means, it’ll better have Windows 10.  It increases it’s “value” in the sense that it will get continued patches once it’s in someone else’s hands.  Now, you might not care and that’s fine.  I am just pointing it out.
  4. How much time do you have spare?  It’s quite simple.  If you do the upgrade now, and the immediately roll back (Yes! You can do that!), your machine is registered as being upgraded.  The main issue here is that we do not know how much the hash Microsoft has about your machine, will change on diverse hardware upgrades?  Does a disk change modify the hash?  Does a RAM upgrade do?  We only know for certain a motherboard swap does.

This brings us to my plan for my family & friends machines, and the one I did on my Ultrabook1.  I will take their machines, one by one, and upgrade it to 10, then revert back to 7.  That way, in 2020, they can go to 10 (because they have to), and keep on using 7 meanwhile.  Should anyone care to go to 10 voluntary, they will be able without paying.  At least, that’s the theory.  This will waste a lot of my time and a shitload of bandwidth, but it’s the best balance I found between point 1-4.
I am going to test what happens if I do a disk swap, instead of a dd clone (that takes so long).  If I can get a machine to upgrade with HDD A, and then use another HDD B to do an install from scratch and it activates fine, I don’t need to do the upgrade on the actual installation (aka, the one people use) and it’s only downtime for the users.

1 My Ultrabook came with Windows 8.  It never actually booted into 8, because I dumped Linux on it.  From day one.  Now, since I do care about the people “after me”, I did the following:  I made a dd clone of the disk, then I installed Windows 8, then I upgraded to Windows 10, then I restored the dd clone of the disk.  It took over three days (in the sense, I did one operation every evening and let it work overnight).  This is the roadplan, I have for Windows 7 machines.  Secure the upgrade, continue using the old and trusted.

Windows 10 upgrades – I’m becoming highly sceptical

If you’ve been following my progress on Facebook, I am getting very sceptical regarding the Windows 10 upgrade process.  The word in the street is that, if you have a legit installation, and do the upgrade from your Windows 7 installation, your key -printed on the famous sticker- is going to be “upgraded” to a 10 key.  (Ignoring Windows 8 for now, as the keys are in firmware)

Now, fate happened to give me a defective computer just before Windows 10 got released.  My sisters computers hard drive died and it required a full reinstall.  My sister has a System Builder version of Windows 7 Pro.  It is 100% legit, has never been installed on any other hardware and has basically only been installed once, a few years ago, when she bought the hardware.  Ideal situation.
Since I finished the 7 install, but didn’t have the time to go on with the installation, I decided to let it upgrade and, as such, make sure her key is both valid for 7 and 10.  Regardless of what you think about 10, we all know that a fresh start (complete reinstall) is always preferable.  So, I decided to download Windows 10 USB stick creation tool, and create a bootable Windows 10 USB installer. (On her computer, from the upgraded 10 version, no less!)  The word on the street is that, after a successful 10 upgrade, you could install from scratch.

So, I launch the installer and it asks me the key…  The key that -according to the word on the street- should have been upgraded during the, ehm, upgrade.  Not so… It didn’t take it.  I find this highly worrying.  If these key are not updated, future reinstalls will not work and sooner or later the “Install 7/8, the upgrade” will become paying.
I now tried “Skip” and reinstall it from scratch any way.  Perhaps network connectivity is missing or so, and that’s why it doesn’t work.  If not, I foresee huge problems in the future when re-installations of 10 are needed on initially upgraded machines.

If the “install first, then enter key and activate” scenario fails, I give up on Windows 10 for my family and they’ll have to live with 7.  Which, to be entirely honest, is still superior.

Update 2015-08-1@23:31CEST

It makes sense now.  What really happens is that you seem to get a new key.  It is not even a special key, everyone gets the same one.  What really seems to happen is that a hardware hash is sent to Microsoft to identify the machine associated with the OEM key (I have no retail keys to test).
So, every time the installer asked for a key, I skipped it, ending up on a desktop which was… activated!  So, yes, you can reinstall your machine freshly after you did an upgrade, it just is really, really, really dumb about it.  The user (me in occurrence) is left with the idea he has a bad key, but the importance of the key is gone.  At least not the key you have that you used for the upgrade.
Now, keep in mind this has a bitter after-taste.  Re-using OEM licenses, as was totally legal in the EU, suddenly became much harder, if not impossible  Also, if you decide to stay with 7, and upgrade your hardware in the next few years, and in 2020, you say… “Hey, I had this 10 license, I can do that upgrade for free, still”, your hash might have changed and you’ll be out of luck too.  Pray for static hardware if that’s the path you choose to go.

Tomorrow Windows XP dies, long live Windows XP!

designed for windows xpTomorrow is Tuesday 8 April 2014.  The date that Microsoft kills XP support forever.  I know there are many people who want to see it die.  I don’t because it kills off mature software.  Software that has been tried and trusted, where the bugs are known and can be worked around with a well known graphical user interface.

I know, I hear you: Security!  Boooo!  Hisss.  Scare, scare, scare!  I know, as a matter of fact that it is totally possible to run XP safely.  The rules are rather simple: don’t use any other Microsoft software, use a reasonable anti-virus, don’t install stuff you don’t actually need, and…. apply the Unix principles.  You run as standard user, and do administrative tasks as the Administrative user.  That works, and illustrates that a XP machine can be safe.  Sure, the way XP does it is a bit more cumbersome than more modern systems but that does have its advantages (Oh, I’ll click “Allow”, how bad can it be… Aaargh!).  On the other hand, with “Run As” you could get a long way.

The only other reason, I see, is support for more than 4GB RAM.  Ok, fine, I’ll grant you that.  At the risk of sounding like the 640kB is enough for everyone quote, I can assure you that a normal office desktop for the typical worker bee can live with “just” 4GB RAM.  Heck, I write this on an Ultrabook with a mere 4GB RAM.  Ubuntu tells me that I only have 1GB in use right now.

Regardless.  XP dying is a shame.  The normal worker bee gets nothing out of Vista/7/8, neither does the normal home user.  At best they hobble along and cope with the unneeded changes, at worst they get very frustrated (at which point I send the people I want to help to Linux, and those I don’t want to help to Mac OS  X).

So, I declare the 8th April “Install Windows XP day”.  Dust off that old XP machine you have lying around and don’t use.  Write down the OEM key, then grab the ISO and install it in a Virtual Machine (For easy to start VM software: VirtualBox).  Let it update as fully as it allows you to.  Then pink away a tear, in reminiscence of all the hours you wasted reinstalling XP in the first place, but also a tear for the death of mature software.

That’s what I’ll do tomorrow.  Of course, discard the VM afterwards, after all, installing an OEM license on non-original-equipment is filthy piracy.