Technology Tales

Adventures & experiences in contemporary technology

Resolving Windows Update Error 0x80244019 on Windows 10

21st August 2015

In Windows 10, the preferred place to look if you fancy prompting an update of the system is in the Update & Security section of the Settings application. At the top is the Windows Update and the process usually is as simple as pressing the Check for updates button. For most the time, that has been my experience but it stopped working on my main Windows 10 virtual machine so I needed to resolve the problem.

Initially, going into the Advanced Options section and deselecting the tick box for Give me updates for other Microsoft products when I update Windows helped but it seemed a non-ideal solution so I looked further. It was then that I found that manually resetting a system’s Windows Updates components helped others so I tried that and restarted the system.

The first part of the process was to right click on the Start Menu button and select the Windows Powershell (Admin) entry from the menu that appeared. This may be replaced by Command Prompt (Admin) on your system on your machine but the next steps in the process are the same. In fact, you could include any commands you see below in a script file and execute that if you prefer. Here, I will run through each group in succession.

From either Powershell or the Command Prompt, you need to stop the Windows Update, Cryptographic, BITS (or Background Intelligent Transfer Service) and MSI Installer services. To do this, execute the following commands at a command prompt:

net stop wuauserv
net stop cryptSvc
net stop bits
net stop msiserver

With the services stopped, it is then possible to rename the SoftwareDistribution and Catroot2 folders so you can refresh everything to remove the .To do this, execute the following pair of commands using either Powershell or the Command Prompt:

ren C:\Windows\SoftwareDistribution SoftwareDistribution.old
ren C:\Windows\System32\catroot2 Catroot2.old

Once you have the folders renamed, then you can start the Windows Update, Cryptographic, BITS and MSI Installer services by executing the following commands in either Powershell or the Command Prompt:

net start wuauserv
net start cryptSvc
net start bits
net start msiserver

Once these have completed, you may close the Powershell or Command Prompt window that you were using and restart the machine. Going in to the Update & Security section of the Settings tool afterwards and pressing the Check for updates button now builds new versions of the folders that you renamed and this takes a little while longer than the usual update process. Otherwise, you could let your system rebuild things in its own time. As it happens, I opted for manual intervention and all has worked well since then.

Creating soft and hard symbolic links using the Windows command line

19th August 2015

In the world of UNIX and Linux, symbolic links are shortcuts but they do not work like normal Windows shortcuts because you do not jump from one location to another with the file manager’s address bar changing what it shows. Instead, it is as if you see the contents of the directory at another quicker to access location in the file system and the same sort of thinking applies to files too. In some ways, it is like giving files and directories alternative aliases. There are soft links that point to the name of a given directory or file and hard links that point to actual files or directories.

For a long time, I was under the mistaken impression that such things did not exist in Windows until I came across the mklink command, which came with the launch of Windows Vista at the start of 2007. While the then new feature may not be an obvious to most of us, it does does that Windows did incorporate a feature from UNIX and Linux well before the advent of virtual desktops on Windows 10.

By default, the aforementioned command sets up symbolic links to files and the /D switch allows the same to be done for directories too. The /H switch makes a hard link instead of a soft link so we get much of the functionality of the ln command in UNIX and Linux. Here is an example that creates a soft symbolic link for a directory:

mklink /D shortcut target_directory

Above, shortcut is the name of the symbolic link file and target_directory is the destination to which it links. In my experience, it works best for destinations beyond your home folder and, from what I have read, hard links may not be possible across different disks either.

Initial impressions of Windows 10

31st October 2014

Being ever curious on the technology front, the release of the first build of a Technical Preview of Windows 10 was enough to get me having a look at what was on offer. The furore regarding Windows 8.x added to the interest so I went to the download page to get a 64-bit installation ISO image.

That got installed into a fresh VirtualBox virtual machine and the process worked smoothly to give something not so far removed from Windows 8.1. However, it took until release 4.3.18 of VirtualBox before the Guest additions had caught up with the Windows prototype so I signed up for the Windows Insider program and got a 64-bit ISO image to install the Enterprise preview of Windows 10 into a VMware virtual machine since and that supported full screen display of the preview while VirtualBox caught up with it.

Of course, the most obvious development was the return of the Start Menu and it works exactly as expected too. Initially, the apparent lack of an easy way to disable App panels had me going to Classic Shell for an acceptable Start Menu. It was only later that it dawned on me that unpinning these panels would deliver to me the undistracting result that I wanted.

Another feature that attracted my interest is the new virtual desktop functionality. Here I was expecting something like what I have used on Linux and UNIX. There, each workspace is a distinct desktop with only the applications open in a given workspace showing on a panel in there. Windows does not work that way with all applications visible on the taskbar regardless of what workspace they occupy, which causes clutter. Another deficiency is not having a desktop indicator on the taskbar instead of the Task View button. On Windows 7 and 8.x, I have been a user of VirtuaWin and this still works largely in the way that I expect of it too, except for any application windows that have some persistence associated with them; the Task Manager is an example and I include some security software in the same category too.

Even so, here are some keyboard shortcuts for anyone who wants to take advantage of the Windows 10 virtual desktop feature:

  • Create a new desktop: Windows key + Ctrl + D
  • Switch to previous desktop: Windows key + Ctrl + Left arrow
  • Switch to next desktop: Windows key + Ctrl + Right arrow

Otherwise, stability is excellent for a preview of a version of Windows that is early on its road to final release. An upgrade to a whole new build went smoothly when initiated following a prompt from the operating system itself. All installed applications were retained and a new taskbar button for notifications made its appearance alongside the existing Action Centre icon. So far, I am unsure what this does and whether the Action Centre button will be replaced in the fullness of time but I am happy to await where things go with this.

All is polished up to now and there is nothing to suggest that Windows 10 will not be to 8.x what 7 was to Vista. The Start Screen has been dispatched after what has proved to be a misadventure on the part of Microsoft. The PC still is with us and touchscreen devices like tablets are augmenting it instead of replacing it for any tasks involving some sort of creation. If anything, we have seen the PC evolve with laptops perhaps becoming more like the Surface Pro, at least when it comes to hybrid devices. However, we are not as happy smudge our PC screens quite like those on phones and tablets so a return to a more keyboard and mouse centred approach for some devices is a welcome one.

What I have here are just a few observations and there is more elsewhere, including a useful article by Ed Bott on ZDNet. All in all, we are early in the process for Windows 10 and, though it looks favourable so far, I will continue to keep an eye on how it progresses. It needs to be less experimental than Windows 8.x and it certainly is less schizophrenic and should not be a major jump for users of Windows 7.

Adding a Start Menu to Windows 8

16th October 2012

For all the world, it looks like Microsoft has mined a concept from a not often recalled series of Windows: 3.x. Then, we had a Program Manager for starting all our applications with no sign of a Start Menu. That came with Windows 95 and I cannot anyone mourning the burying of the Program Manager interface either. It was there in Windows 95 if you knew where to look and I do remember starting an instance, possibly out of curiosity.

Every Windows user seems to have taken to the Start Menu regardless of how big they grow when you install a lot of software on your machine. It didn’t matter that Windows NT got it later than Windows 9x ones either; NT 3.51 has the Program Manager too and it was NT 4 that got the then new interface that has been developed and progressed in no less than four subsequent versions of Windows (2000, XP, Vista & 7). Maybe it was because computing was the preserve of fewer folk that the interchange brought little if any sign of a backlash. The zeitgeist of the age reflected the newness of desktop computing and its freshness probably brought an extra level of openness too.

Things are different now, though. You only have to hear of the complaints about changes to Linux desktop environments to realise how attached folk become to certain computer interfaces. Ironically, personal computing has just got exciting again after a fairly stale decade of stasis. Mobile computing devices are aplenty and it no longer is a matter of using a stationary desktop PC or laptop and those brought their own excitement in the 1990’s. In fact, reading a title like Computer Shopper reminds me of how things once were with its still sticking with PC reviews while others are not concentrating on them as much. Of course, the other gadgets get reviewed too so it is not stuck in any rut. Still, it is good to see the desktop PC getting a look in in an age when there is so much competition, especially from phones and tablets.

In this maelstrom, Microsoft has decided to do something dramatic with Windows 8. It has resurrected the Program Manager paradigm in the form of the Start screen and excised the Start Menu from the desktop altogether. For touch screen computing interfaces such as tablets, you can see the sense of this but it’s going to come as a major surprise to many. Removing what lies behind how many people interact with a PC is risky and you have to wonder how it’s going to work out for all concerned.

What reminded me of this was a piece on CNET by Mary Jo Foley. Interestingly, software is turning up that returns the Start Menu (or Button) to Windows 8. One of these is Classic Shell and I decided to give it a go on a Windows 8 Enterprise evaluation instance that I have. Installation is like any Windows program and I limited the options to the menu and updater. At the end of the operation, a button with a shell icon appeared on the desktop’s taskbar. You can make the resultant menu appear like that of Windows XP or Windows 7 if you want. There are other settings like what the Windows key does and what happens when you click on the button with a mouse. By default, both open the new Start Menu and holding down the Shift key when doing either brings up the Start screen. This is customisable so you can have things the other way around if you so desire. Another setting is to switch from the Start screen to the desktop after you log into Windows 8 (you may also have it log in for you automatically but it’s something that I believe anyone should be doing). The Start screen does flash up but things move along quickly; maybe having not appear at all would be better for many.

Classic Shell is free of charge and worked well for me apart from that small rough edge noted above. It also is open source and looks well maintained too. For that reason, it appeals to me more that Stardock’s Start8 (currently in beta release at the time of writing) or Pokki for Windows 8, which really is an App Store that adds a Start Menu. If you encounter Windows 8 on a new computer, then they might be worth trying should you want a Start Menu back. Being an open-minded type, I could get along with the standard Windows 8 interface but it’s always good to have choices too. Most of us want to own our computing experience, it seems, so these tools could have their uses for Windows 8 users.

Yet another useful Windows shortcut

11th December 2011

During the week, I needed to go to a client to upgrade the laptop that they’d given me for doing work for them. The cause was their migration from Windows XP to Windows 7. Office 2010 also came with the now set up and they replace the machines with new ones too. As part of doing this, they carried out upgrade training and this is when I got to learn a thing or two.

While I may have been using Windows 7 since the beta releases first were made available, I am under no illusions that I know all there is to be known about the operating system. Included among the things of which I wasn’t aware was a shortcut key combination for controlling display output from the HP laptop that I’d been given. This is the Windows key + P. This brings up a dialogue screen from which you can select the combination that you need and that includes extending the display across two different screens, such as that of the laptop and an external monitor. Going into the display properties will fine tune things such as what is the main display and the placement of the desktops; there’s no point in having Windows thinking that the external screen is to your left when in fact it is at the right.

Another interesting shortcut is the Windows key + TAB. This affects the Aero application view and repeating the combination cycles through the open applications or you can use a mouse wheel to achieve the same end. With ALT + TAB and the taskbar still about, this might appear more of a curiosity but some may still find it handy so I’ve shared it here too.

All in all, it’s best never to think that you know enough about something because there’s always something new to be learned and it’s always the smallest of things that proves to be the most helpful. With every release of Windows, that always seems to be the case and Windows 8 should not be any different, even if all the talk is about its Metro interface. A beta release is due in the spring of 2012 so we’ll have a chance to find out then. You never can stop learning about this computing business.

All Change?

19th September 2011

Could 2011 be remembered as the year when the desktop computing interface got a major overhaul? One part of this, Windows 8, won’t be with us until next year but there has been enough happening so far this year that has resulted in a lot of comment. With many if not all of the changes, it is possible to detect the influence of interfaces used on smartphones. After all, the carryover from Windows Phone 7 to the new Metro interface is unmistakeable.

Two developments in the Linux world have spawned a hell of an amount of comment: Canonical’s decision to develop Unity for Ubuntu and the arrival of GNOME 3. While there have been many complaints about the changes made in both, there must be a fair few folk who are just getting on with using them without complaint. Maybe there are many who even quietly like the new interfaces. While I am not so sure about Unity, I surprised myself by taking to GNOME Shell so much that I installed it on Linux Mint. It remains a work in progress as does Unity but it’ll be very interesting to see it mature. Perhaps a good number of the growing collection of GNOME Shell plugins could make it into the main codebase. If that were to happen, I could see it being welcomed by a good few folk.

There was little doubt that the changes in GNOME 3 looked daunting so Ubuntu’s taking a different approach is understandable until you come to realise how change that involves anyway. With GNOME 3 working so well for me, I feel disinclined to dally very much with Unity at all. In fact, I am writing these words on a Toshiba laptop running UGR, effectively Ubuntu running GNOME 3, and that could become my main home computing operating system in time.

For those who find these changes not to their taste, there are alternatives. Some Linux distributions are sticking with GNOME 2 as long as they can and there apparently has been some mention of a fork to keep a GNOME 2 interface available indefinitely. However, there are other possibilities such as LXDE and XFCE out there too. In fact, until GNOME 3 won me over, LXDE was coming to mind as a place of safety until I learned that Linux Mint was retaining its desktop identity. As always, there’s KDE too but I have never warmed to that for some reason.

The latest version of OS X, Lion, also included some changes inspired by iOS, the operating system that powers both the iPhone and iPad. However, while the current edition of PC Pro highlights some disgruntlement in professional circles regarding Apple’s direction, they do not seem to have aroused the kind of ire that has been abroad in the world of Linux. Is it because Linux users want to feel that they are in charge and that iMac and MacBook users are content to have decisions made for them so long as everything just works? Speaking for myself, the former description seems to fit me though having choices means that I can reject decisions that I do not like so much.

At the time of writing, the release of a developer preview of the next version of Windows has been generating a lot of attention. It also appears that changes are headed for the Windows user too. However, I get the sense that a more conservative interface option will be retained and that could be essential for avoiding the alienation of corporate users. After all, I cannot see the Metro interface gaining much favour in the working environment when so many of us have so much to do. Nevertheless, I plan to get my hands on the developer preview to have a look (the weekend proved too short for this). It will be very interesting to see how the next version of Windows develops and I plan to keep an eye on it as it does so.

It now looks as if many will have their work cut out if they are to avoid where desktop computing interfaces are going. Established paradigms are being questioned, particularly as a result of touch interfaces on smartphones and tablets. Wii and Kinect have involved other ways of interacting with computers too so there’s a lot of mileage in rethinking how we work with computers. So far, I have been able to deal with the changes in the world of Linux but I am left wondering at the changes that Microsoft is making. After Vista, they need to be careful and they know that. Maybe, they’ll be better at getting users through changes in computing interfaces than others but it’ll be very interesting to see what happens. Unlike open source community projects, they have the survival of a massive multinational at stake.

Shell swapping in Windows

28th April 2010

Until the advent of PowerShell, Windows had been the poor relation when it came to working from the command line when compared with UNIX, Linux and so on. A recent bit of fiddling had me trying to run FTP from the legacy command prompt when I ran into problems with UNC address resolution (it’s unsupported by the old technology) and mapping of network drives. It turned out that my error 85 was being caused by an unavailable drive letter that the net use command didn’t reveal as being in use. Reassuringly, this wasn’t a Vista issue that I couldn’t circumvent.

During this spot of debugging, I tried running batch files in PowerShell and discovered that you cannot run them there like you would from the old command prompt. In fact, you need a line like the following:

cmd /c script.bat

In other words, you have to call cmd.exe like perl.exe, wscript.exe and cscript.exe for batch files to execute. If I had time, I might have got to exploring the use ps1 files for setting up PowerShell commandlets but that is something that needs to wait until another time. What I discovered though is that UNC addressing can be used with PowerShell without the need for drive letter mappings, not a bad development at all. While on the subject of discoveries, I discovered that the following command opens up a command prompt shell from PowerShell without any need to resort to the Start Menu:

cmd /k

Entering the exit command returns you to the PowerShell command line again and entering cmd /? reveals the available options for the command so you need never be constrained by your own knowledge or its limitations.

A bigger screen?

23rd February 2010

A recent bit of thinking has caused me to cast my mind back over all the screens that have sat in front of me while working with computers over the years. Well, things have come a long way from the spare television that I used with a Commodore 64 that I occasionally got to exploring the thing. Needless to say, a variety of dedicated CRT screens ensued as I started to make use of Apple and IBM compatible PC’s provided in computing labs and other such places before I bought an example of the latter as my first ever PC of my own. That sported a 15″ display that stood out a little in times when 14″ ones were mainstream but a 17″ Iiyama followed it when its operational quality deteriorated. That Iiyama came south with me from Edinburgh as I moved to where the work was and offered sterling service before it too started to succumb to aging.

During the time that the Iiyama CRT screen was my mainstay at home, there were changes afoot in the world of computer displays. A weighty 21″ Philips screen was what greeted me on a first day at work but 21″ Eizo LCD displays were set to replace those behemoths and remain in use as if to prove the longevity of LCD panels and the validity of using what had been sufficient for laptops for a decade or so. In fact, the same comment regarding reliability applies to the screen that now is what I use at home, a 17″ Iiyama LCD panel (yes, I stuck with the same brand when I changed technologies longer ago than I like to remember).

However, that hasn’t stopped me wondering about my display needs and it’s screen size that is making me think rather than the reliability of the current panel. That is a reflection on how my home computing needs have changed over time and they show how my non-computing interests have evolved too. Photography is but one of these and the move the digital capture has brought with a greater deal of image processing, so much that I wonder if I need to make less photos rather than bringing home so many that it can be hard to pick out the ones that are deserving of a wider viewing. That is but one area where a bigger screen would help but there is another and it arises from my interest in exploring countryside on foot or on my bike: digital mapping. When planning outings, it would be nice to have a wider field of view to be able to see more at a larger scale.

None of the above is a showstopper that would be the case if the screen itself was unreliable so I am going to take my time on this one. The prospect of sharing desktops across two screens is another idea but that needs some thought about where it all would fit; the room that I have set aside for working at my computer isn’t the largest but it’ll need to do. After the space side of things, then there’s the matter of setting up the hardware. Quite how a dual display is going to work with a KVM setup is something to explore as is the adding of extra video cards to existing machines. After the hardware fiddling, the software side of things is not a concern that I have because of when I used laptop as my main machine for a while last year. That confirmed that Windows (Vista but it has been possible since 2000 anyway…) and Ubuntu (other modern Linux distributions should work too…) can cope with desktop sharing out of the box.

Apart from the nice thoughts of having more desktop space, the other tempting side to all of this is what you can get for not much outlay. It isn’t impossible to get a 22″ display for less than £200 and the prices for 24″ ones are tempting too. That’s a far cry from paying next to £300 (if my memory serves me correctly) for that 17″ Iiyama and I’d hope that the quality is as good as ever.

It’s all very well talking about pricing but you need to sit down and choose a make and model when you get to deciding on a purchase. There is plenty of choice so that would take a while but magazine reviews will come in handy here. Saying that, last year’s computing misadventures have me questioning the sense of going for what a magazine places on its A-list. They also have me minded to go to a nearby computer shop to make a purchase rather than choosing a supplier on the web; it is easier to take back a faulty unit if you don’t have far to go. Speaking of faulty units, last year has left me contemplating waiting until the year is older before making any acquisitions of computer kit. All of that has put the idea of buying a new screen on the low priority list, nice to have but not essential. For now, that is where it stays but you never know what the attractions of a shiny new thing can do…

Consolidation

19th November 2009

For a while, the Windows computing side of my life has been spread across far too many versions of the pervasive operating systems with the list including 2000 (desktop and server), XP, 2003 Server, Vista and 7; 9x hasn’t been part of my life for what feels like an age. At home, XP has been the mainstay for my Windows computing needs with Vista Home Premium loaded on my Toshiba laptop. The latter variant came in for more use during that period of home computing “homelessness” and, despite a cacophony of complaints from some, it seemed to work well enough. Since the start of the year, 7 has also been in my sights with beta and release candidate instances in virtual machines leaving me impressed enough to go popping the final version onto both the laptop and in a VM on my main PC. Microsoft finally have got around to checking product keys over the net so that meant a licence purchase for each installation using the same downloaded 32-bit ISO image. 7 still is doing well by me so I am beginning to wonder whether having an XP VM is becoming pointless. The reason for that train of thought is that 7 is becoming the only version that I really need for anything that takes me into the world of Windows.

Work is a different matter with a recent move away from Windows 2000 to Vista heavily reducing my exposure to the venerable old stager (businesses usually take longer to migrate and any good IT manager usually delays any migration by a year anyway). 2000 is sufficiently outmoded by now that even my brother was considering a move to 7 for his work because of al the Office 2007 files that have been coming his way. He may be no technical user but the bad press gained by Vista hasn’t passed him by so a certain wariness is understandable. Saying that, my experiences with Vista haven’t been unpleasant and it always worked well on the laptop and the same also can be said for its corporate desktop counterpart. Much of the noise centered around issues of hardware and software compatibility and that certainly is apparent at work with my having some creases left to straighten.

With all of this general forward heaving, you might think that IE6 would be shuffling its mortal coil by now but a recent check on visitor statistics for this website places it at about 13% share, tantalisingly close to oblivion but still too large to ignore it completely. All in all, it is lingering like that earlier blight of web design, Netscape 4.x. If I was planning a big change to the site design, setting up a Win2K VM would be in order not to completely put off those labouring with the old curmudgeon. For smaller changes, the temptation is not to bother checking but that is questionable when XP is set to live on for a while yet. That came with IE6 and there must be users labouring with the old curmudgeon and that’s ironic with IE8 being available for SP2 since its original launch a while back. Where all this is leading me is towards the idea of waiting for IE6 share to decrease further before tackling any major site changes. After all, I can wait with the general downward trend in market share; there has to be a point when its awkwardness makes it no longer viable to support the thing. That would be a happy day.

Never undercutting the reseller…

23rd October 2009

Quite possibly, THE big technology news of the week has been the launch of Windows 7. Regular readers may be aware that I have been having a play with the beta and release candidate versions of the thing since the start of the year. In summary, I have found to work both well and unobtrusively. There have been some rough edges when access files through VirtualBox’s means of accessing the host file system from a VM but that’s the only perturbation to be reported and, even then, it only seemed to affect my use of Photoshop Elements.

Therefore, I had it in mind to get my hands on a copy of the final release after it came out. Of course, there was the option of pre-ordering but that isn’t for everyone so there are others. A trip down to the local branch of PC World will allow you to satisfy your needs with full, upgrade (if you already have a copy of XP or Vista, it might be worth trying out the Windows Secrets double installation trick to get it loaded on a clean system) and family packs. The last of these is very tempting: three Home Premium licences for around £130. Wandering around to your local PC components emporium is an alternative but you have to remember that OEM versions of the operating system are locked to the first (self-built) system on which they are installed. Apart from that restriction, the good value compared with retail editions makes them worth considering. The last option that I wish to bring to your attention is buying directly from Microsoft themselves. You would think that this may be cheaper than going to a reseller but that’s not the case with the Family Pack costing around £150 in comparison to PC World’s pricing and it doesn’t end there. That they only accept Maestro debit cards along with credit cards from the likes of Visa and Mastercard perhaps is another sign that Microsoft are new to whole idea of selling online. In contrast, Tesco is no stranger to online selling but they have Windows 7 on offer though they aren’t noted for computer sales; PC World may be forgiven for wondering what that means but who would buy an operating system along with their groceries? I suppose that the answer to that would be that people who are accustomed to delivering one’s essentials at a convenient time should be able to do the same with computer goods too. That convenience of timing is another feature of downloading an OS from the web and many a Linux fan should know what that means. Microsoft may have discovered this of late but that’s better than never.

Because of my positive experience with the pre-release variants of Windows 7, I am very tempted to get my hands on the commercial release. Because I have until early next year with the release candidate and XP works sufficiently well (it ultimately has given Vista something of a soaking), I’ll be able to bide my time. When I do make the jump, it’ll probably be Home Premium that I’ll choose because it seems difficult to justify the extra cost of Professional. It was different in the days of XP when its Professional edition did have something to offer technically minded home users like me. With 7, XP Mode might be a draw but with virtualisation packages like VirtualBox available for no cost, it’s hard to justify spending extra. In any case, I have Vista Home Premium loaded on my Toshiba laptop and that seems to work fine, in spite of all the bad press that Vista has gotten for itself.

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