Friday, October 19, 2012

Windows Deployment Services (WDS, was RIS)

I’ve got a test network with some servers, but not many clients. As the capabilities of the network expand I’m likely to want to be able to try stuff out and that might involve other people, and they will need client machines. I’ve got an old laptop lying around. I decide to use this to install my first, non-virtual, client OS.

I installed Windows Server 2012, thinking I might use System Center to try installing over the network, but on the way I discovered that Windows Server can already do this kind of thing via the Windows Deployment Services server role (used to be called RIS).

I also discover Windows Server 2012 has had a makeover with a new start page, like Windows 8. Most of the tools underneath are the same, but the surface is prettier.

As an aside, in doing this I also found that the default policy for this out-of-the-box domain (created by Windows Server 2008 R2) has a minimum password age of 1 day, so I can’t change my local admin password on this new server until tomorrow. Apparently this is because, with no minimum, a user can defeat a password history check by simply changing their password a few times to get back to their favourite password again. Makes sense, and I plan to leave the default alone, but tripped me up for a moment as it kept going on about password complexity.

After installing the role you then have to configure it. I chose to allow any client to connect, but to require admin approval.

You then need a boot image and an install image. The boot image is the one that is loaded over the network initially, via Pre-boot Execution Environment (PXE), just to do the actual install. It will pull these off the install DVD, so I gave it the Windows 8 ISO (mounted via Hyper-V) that I used earlier for a client install and it found both of the images it needed automatically.

You can’t customise the image at this point, and I don’t want to, but might return to this later.

I then boot my target laptop, with the test network cable attached; spam F12 to get boot options; and choose Boot from onboard NIC. It finds the deployment server via DHCP and then I miss pressing F12 again and it boots the existing Windows 7 installation that’s on the drive. Grrr. Reboot, repeat and this time hit F12 (instructions may vary depending on BIOS). Windows 8 setup begins. I give it my admin logon when prompted and it starts to copy files.  After that the installation is as expected.

Oddly, it doesn’t appear to need approval, although I’m sure I told it I wanted to approve new installations. This can be changed via WDS > SERVERNAME > Properties > PXE Response. The approval requirement is not set (I’m sure I set it during setup), so I set it. I also spot PXE Response Delay which is set to 0, so I change it to 10 seconds (maximum is 28 for some reason), thinking it will give me longer to hit F12 the second time, but, upon reinstalling the client, it doesn’t, so I put it back to 0 again.

Reboot again, and hit F12 and this time I get a message telling me I need to get approval and a place for a message from the Admin (although I don’t see a way to set this message on the server). On the server, under Pending Devices, I can Approve, Name and Approve or Reject. Choosing Name and Approve I can give the machine a hostname and choose a container in Active Directory. On the next page I can choose which image to install (I leave it blank) and I can choose to grant another user rights to join the computer to the domain. I leave this blank too.

The install proceeds as soon as I click Finish on the server to approve the request. The install proceeds as before and I join the domain by giving my admin credentials on the client, but it’s nice to know I can do all this on the server if needed.

Other tabs on the server properties imply I can disable the need to press F12 and set a computer naming convention, and a bunch of other stuff.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Installing Exchange 2010 SP1

My next adventure in building my own test environment was to install Exchange so I can mess with email and stuff.

I installed Exchange Server 2010 SP1 from an MSDN image into a virtual machine (VM) running Windows Server 2008 R2. First I used Windows Update to bring down ~90 updates including IE9.

The initial 5-step setup program for Exchange (I shall call this “phase 1”) says it requires .Net Framework 3.5.1 and gives a handy download link which won’t work because you have to install that by enabling the Application Server server role. I did this and accepted the default, minimum dependent bits that it asked for.

Later on I will need IIS 7 I could probably take them at this point and save a step later on. I also had to reboot to get pending changes installed before Exchange would install, so you can save another step by doing a reboot now.

I chose to install just the included languages and not the bundle. I don’t know what the difference is and don’t care right now.

It then copies some files locally and launches “phase 2” of the Exchange setup.

I chose the typical installation because I don’t know what the different Exchange roles do nor which I need.

I gave it an organization name of DevTest; left split permissions unticked (the default); left public folders unticked (default) as I don’t intend to have any Outlook 2003 clients. I also left the Client Access Server unticked as I don’t know what my external DNS entry might be at this point. I assume I can add this role later.

It then does a bunch of “readiness” checks. Some of these are due to pending server changes (from adding the Server Role) so I cancel the setup and reboot.

It also wants the current user to be in the Enterprise Admins and Schema Admins groups, so it can mess with the Active Directory structure, so I add my user to those.

I rerun the install from the DVD and skip through phase 1 again then it copies files again and then tells me it found an earlier install, do I want to carry on with that, click Yes and it skips on to the readiness checks again.

It also needs Microsoft Office 2010 Filter Pack and some parts of the IIS 7 server role. I download the former and install the latter, choosing to only put on the specific IIS 7 role services that it wants (2 authentication services and both compression services). Again, this caused problems later – getting more of IIS 7 installed first would have saved me some steps below.

After a reboot I find 4 more Windows Updates so I let them come down and reboot again and restart the Exchange install again.

This time it goes through the checks OK and does the install. It took ~25 minutes. I gave it the server license key (from MSDN subscription) and rebooted then opened the newly-installed Exchange Management Console to have a look around.

Under Server Configuration > Client Access > SERVER NAME > Properties > General I can see the URL for OWA, but browsing here just gives me a blank, white page.

It turns out that there are a bunch of IIS 7 pre-requisites that the readiness checks don’t check (derp!). Note that you need import-module servermanager before add-windowsfeature will work.

That did it - OWA now works in the browser on the server and in the browser from a Windows 7 client. I’ve not tried an Outlook desktop client yet and the email will only work internally as I don’t have an external DNS entry.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Windows 8

I recently installed Windows 8 on a laptop to get a feel for how it worked on some real tin, rather than the virtual machine (VM) I tried it in before. This is the RTM image from MSDN subscriber downloads, not the preview edition and is Windows 8 Enterprise, EN-UK.

My laptop already has Windows 7 on it, and I didn’t want to lose that, so I decided to try dual-booting it with Windows 8. Actually, a colleague suggested this to me. The last time I tried dual-booting was years ago and was a pain.

Making space to install (and dual-boot) Windows 8

The first problem is freeing up some unallocated disk space. I have a 500GB drive, half of which is unused, but is allocated to my main drive partition. Last time I needed to rejig a drive I used PartitionMagic, but it turns out that Windows 7 can do this itself. In Computer Management > Storage > Disk Management I right-clicked on the C drive and chose Shrink Volume. It had a bit of a think, then I asked it to shrink by 128 GB, which it did, showing me my old C drive and a new lump of Unallocated Space.

Update: I did this on another machine, but first I had to delete some stuff to make space. You then also need to do a defrag, which consolidates your newly-made free space, in order to shrink. The shrink doesn’t automatically move things around it seems.

Burning the image

The next problem is that I downloaded the installation as an .iso image file and need to get it to the laptop at boot time. The laptop has a DVD burner so I inserted a blank DVD, right-clicked the ISO and chose Burn Disk Image. Or I would have, if it were there. I think some other DVD burning software had messed with the file extension associations. I right-clicked and chose Open WIth and then browsed to c:\windows\system32\isoburn.exe. This let me burn the image and the Burn Disk Image is now available when I right-click on .iso files. Again, it’s nice that the tools are just there (sort of) without requiring a bunch of third-party stuff.

Installing Windows 8

With the freshly-burnt DVD still in the drive I restarted the Windows 7 laptop, spammed F12 and chose to boot from DVD. A little blue window appears. And then nothing for 30+ seconds. Hmm. Hung at the first attempt? But no, some little wheeling dots appear to show me it’s still alive.

I chose Custom: Install Windows Only, which hopefully means “install Windows 8, but don’t trash my existing stuff”. It then asks where to put it, and I choose the 128GB Unallocated Space I made earlier. Then I wait a bit while it copies things and allocates bedrooms to the magic pixies or something.

Create a local logon (optional)

I deliberately do not have an internet connection at this point because my colleagues want to see the initial wireless networking connection experience so they know what to expect if users start turning up with Windows 8 devices in the near future.

A this point I have to give it a username and password. If it were connected to the interwebs then I could choose to login using my Windows Live account details instead, but I’m not so I have to give it something local for now. I’ll associate it with my Windows Live account later on.

Dual booting

Windows 8 has detected my previous installation of Windows 7 and has automatically setup a boot-loader. When I reboot the machine I get a pretty, blue menu which lets me choose Windows 8 (the default and will auto-boot in 30 seconds) or Windows 7. I try this and it seems to work – I can boot to Windows 7, reboot again and this time go to Windows 8 again.

Some basic stuff about Windows 8

I’ve summarised some basic stuff in this section which I will then refer back to later on.

The old, familiar Start Menu button has gone. Windows 8 is fronted by the new Metro start page (or whatever they end up calling it). This is designed with touch-screens in mind, but also works with a mouse.

A touch-screen device will, presumably, have a button to get you back to the start from where ever you happen to be. On a laptop the Windows Key (WinKey hereafter) does this. The WinKey is between Ctrl and Alt on my keyboard.

Mousing into the top-right corner of the screen brings up the “charms” menu, which is where some basic stuff such as searching & settings are kept. WinKey+C is quicker, especially if you have a multi-monitor setup as I keep missing the corner and going into the other screen.

WinKey+Q will open up the context-sensitive search charm and is something I use constantly.

WinKey+X opens an old-style context popup menu, but it contains most of the most-useful tools and utilities. This is probably the most important key combo for an experienced Windows user to know.

WinKey+D will get you to the desktop. This is just like the old Windows desktop, but the start menu button has gone – press the WinKey to bring up the start page.

Those apps that have not been updated for Windows 8 & Metro continue to work via the desktop and will install their start menu items as grey tiles on the new Metro start page. This can be a bit of a pain as they all get installed, so installing the driver for my Microsoft keyboard, for example, puts 5 tiles on the start page, of which I will use precisely none. However, it is easy to multi-select them (right click on each) then choose Unpin from Start. You can still access them from the Search charm via the Apps plugin, which is selected for you if you launch search from the start page, so you can re-pin them later if you want.

Wireless networking

I found some basic networking stuff via the Settings charm. I connected to our residential wireless network, which provides internet access, but no access to our core IT systems, and had to give my username with our network domain name prefixed, like: domainname\username. Makes sense to me, but I’m told this wasn’t required previously so could trip some people up.

Switching to the desktop (WinKey+D) I can see, in the notification tray, that I am connected to the network, but have no internet connection. This also makes sense as we run a browser-based logon as well which I’ll need to run through to get a connection out.

I open Internet Explorer and try to go to Google and get redirected to our login page. At this point I get certificate warnings, but I had this when I tried this earlier on Windows 7 so tell it to carry on (twice). It then downloads a little agent thingy that gives me the all-clear and asks me to wait 30 seconds before redirecting to our website. IE times out and cannot display the page. The notification tray still shows no internet connection. In the end it did fix itself, but it took it a couple of minutes.

The certificate problems are a pity, but I think the infrastructure people will get that sorted out.


Now I have the internet again I want to associate my local account with my Windows Live account so I go looking though the options under Charms > Settings. The first page here is about personalisation but it’s all disabled because Windows cannot activate.

WinKey+X > Event Viewer shows me that activation failed because it tried to activate against a local domain controller (which is also an activation server, or something, perhaps). Anyway, this is not what I expected. WinKey+X > System brings up a familiar page, which shows, under Windows activation, at the bottom of the page, that it tried to use an activation key that’s burned into the image (I’m guessing – it’s not one I gave it).

After some research I run “slui 3” from a elevated Command Prompt (WinKey+X > Command Prompt (Admin)). This lets me put in my own key from my MSDN Product Keys page and lets me activate directly with Microsoft.

Linking my local account to Windows Live

WinKey+C > Settings > Change PC Settings > Users lets me associate my local account with my Windows Live account and use my Windows Live email address and password.

This also brings down my account details for Facebook and Twitter automatically, as I already set them up on another copy of Windows 8. My contacts, etc., just come down and are then ready for use.

At this point I’d expect some people to start vaguely muttering about “privacy”, but since it was OK when Apple did it with the iPad, I guess those people can just shut the hell up.

First Impressions

It looks great. I like the new metro style and the managed search is good. Everything is quick and smooth and the UI transitions are nice.

Contact details from Facebook, Twitter, Exchange, etc. are all integrated into a single People app so I can just search or browse in one place to find everyone. Even better is the What’s New feature within People which shows all my friends’ updates from all providers in one timeline. I’d like to also get RSS feed items in this list, but didn’t see a way to do this. A Google Reader plugin would be perfect as I already have my feeds subscribed there, and I don’t think Microsoft have anything similar I could use instead.

The built-in Windows 8 music app works with my Zune subscription which is all tied together with my Windows Live account, so I can just start streaming music. My playlists (My Music\Playlists\*.zpl files on my Windows 7 partition) also work when I copy them over to the same place in Windows 8 (the folder didn’t exist so I had to create it). There’s no option to add the songs to my local collection, but I can just stream the playlist. Bit of a pain to have to go and get each song down again, but maybe I’ll find away around.

As an aside, there’s a minor UX annoyance here. I’d like my playlists decoupled from the physical files and also synced via Windows Live, so they can follow me from device to device. If I have a subscription then I should be able to have it download again to this device. I’d also like to be able to add tracks, even if they are not currently available from the marketplace (like a wish list).

A did have a weird sound problem, in that plugging headphones into the audio jack did not work – sound continued to come from the built-in, tinny, little laptop speakers. After a bit I used WinKey+X > Control Panel > Sounds and had a poke about. It seems that Windows 8 detects the speakers and the jack as two different audio devices and uses the speakers by default. I changed it to use the jack instead and it started to work as expected.

A Metro App for Skype is not available yet, although it seems one is coming very soon.

RSS feeds don’t seem to work if using Metro IE, but do if using IE on the desktop. I also didn’t see an easy way to integrate them

There doesn’t seem to be any built-in integration with Windows Phone 7.5 – I had to install the Zune software to the desktop.

One of the first automatic updates that comes down is the annoying Windows 8 “browser choice” we in the EU forced Microsoft to implement due to some weird idea that it was unfair to bundle Internet Explorer on Windows. It’s pretty ironic that the competition abandoned any idea of browser-agnosticism and all invented their own app stores anyway.

Stuff I have yet to try

Joining the domain.

Office. This is the killer of course. It’s used a lot here and needs to work. I’m sure it’s fine, but I’ve not tried it yet.