A first look at SAS University Edition

My first introduction to SAS came near the start of my post-university career over a decade ago. It was six weeks of classroom training and hands-on case studies that got me going with SAS 6.12. The included SAS products naturally included the components of Base SAS for data processing (data step, PROC SQL) and reporting as well as SAS/Graph. All of that was enough for a placement with one of my then employer’s clients with the added advantage of becoming one of the client’s own employees at the end of it. During that stay, more SAS versions followed until the launch of 9.1.3. Eventually, I moved onto pastures new and I remain a SAS user with 9.3 being the most recent version that I have met at work while SAS University Edition is bringing me towards 9.4.

SAS Learning Edition

Though it is possible to extend one’s knowledge on the job, that can be harder to manage during the working day when times are busy. Before SAS University Edition, we had SAS Learning Edition and I took delivery of a copy while it was available. It included SAS Enterprise Guide 4.1 together with a limited version of SAS 9 that a few limitations. Firstly it only would process up to 1500 records in any dataset but that was not such a problem for learning. Support from SAS was limited too even if the package had a price that I seem to remember was around £100 but my memory is hazy about this. What you need to remember is that SAS licenses are vastly more expensive than this so you got that for which you have paid. If you did have a Base SAS installation, Learning Edition would co-exist with it and versions like 8.2 and 9.1.3 Service Pack 4 were compatible so long as you had them pre-installed. There was a warning that re-installation of software might be required if either SAS Learning Edition or Base SAS is removed inappropriately.

Speaking of licenses, Learning Edition was time limited with its own version 2.0 (based on Enterprise Guide 2.0 and, if I recall correctly, SAS 8.2) and version 4.1 purchased prior to September 10, 2007 expiring on December 31, 2008. The expiry date for version 4.1 after the aforementioned purchase deadline was December 31, 2011. More conventionally, it was for single PC installation only and that PC had to run either Windows 2000 or Windows XP Professional. The process was one that would be more than familiar to anyone who ever installed software on a machine running Windows. Even with those older operating systems, it needed 1,080 MB of hard disk space. It reminds me of a time when 10 GB of hard drive capacity was generous but that had moved beyond 160 GB around ten years ago. The RAM requirements also fitted the time with 256 MB being the bare minimum and 512 MB being recommended.

Usefully, the whole package came with a copy of The Little SAS Book and, not having it next to me while writing these words, I cannot recall whether whether it was the version for Enterprise Guide or the Primer edition. Though I may not have made as much use of the software as I could have done, it certainly came in useful for trying a few things and I found a way to start up the more traditional SAS DMS interface as well as Enterprise Guide.

SAS University Edition

Apart for being made available free of charge, SAS University Edition is very different from its predecessor, SAS Learning Edition. After all, things have moved along since the last decade and SAS has its SAS Analytics U (for University, I presume) community now and that may explain the name though there is a wider focus on established university teaching too. Even long term SAS users like me can be called learners too so we get allowed in as well.

Firstly, it works in a very different way since you no longer are installing SAS software like you would with Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop. To work, it needs you to have one of Oracle VirtualBox (4.3.12 is preferred at the time of writing), VMware Player or VMware Fusion because what you are getting is a virtual machine. For those unfamiliar with such things, SAS has Quick Start guides for each:

VirtualBox

VMware Player

VMware Fusion

The available VM’s are built around Linux in that 64-bit Red Hat Enterprise Linux is installed in there with SAS running as a service on top of it. In fact, the virtual runs solely as a server with just a screen informing you of the IP address that you need to load in your web browser of choice. That reveals another break with the past with SAS Studio being used in place of Enterprise Guide or the SAS DMS. While all the processing happens within the virtual machine, it is possible to store files on your own host operating system’s file system using by setting up a shared folder called myfolders that points to where you want it and that SAS Studio can use.

The use of virtualisation to roll out a local SAS server that makes SAS Studio available is neat and means that you do not need to run Microsoft Windows on a PC as was the case with SAS Learning Edition. Mac OS X and Linux are possibilities and I use the latter at home so this is a very good thing. Furthermore, there are installation guide for each supported operating system:

Linux

OS X

OS X

The version of SAS that you get is 9.4 and it is licensed until the middle of June 2015 with a 45 day grace period taking you as far as the end of July. Along with Base SAS, you also get SAS/STAT, SAS/IML, SAS/Secure 168-bit, SAS/ACCESS Interface to PC Files, SAS/ACCESS Interface to ODBC, SAS/IML Studio, SAS Workspace Server for Local Access, SAS Workspace Server for Enterprise Access and High Performance Suite. SAS/Graph is absent but new statistical graphics procedures like SGPLOT and SGPANEL are there so graph creation possibilities should be covered anyway.

All in all, SAS University Edition looks a snazzy arrangement and I plan to explore what is offered. SAS Studio is a new to me but there are enough recognisable features to help me settle in with it and it would merit an entry of its own on here. In fact, SAS has some video tutorials on their YouTube channel that show off some of its capabilities and the new tool certainly carries over from both Enterprise Guide and the more traditional DMS interface.

Speaking of blogging, SAS has an entry on one of the theirs that it has called Free SAS Software for students!, which is another introduction to SAS University Edition. Other (non-blog) articles include Get Started With SAS® University Edition along with a useful FAQ.

Upgrading from Windows 7 to Windows 8 in a VMWare Virtual Machine

Though my main home PC runs Linux Mint, I do like to have the facility to use Windows software from time to time and virtualisation has allowed me to continue doing that. For a good while, it was a Windows 7 guest within a VirtualBox virtual machine and, before that, one running Windows XP fulfilled the same role. However, it did feel as if things were running slower in VirtualBox than once might have been the case and I jumped ship to VMware Player. It may be proprietary and closed source but it is free of charge and has been doing what was needed. A subsequent recent upgrade of video driver on the host operating system allowed the enabling of a better graphical environment in the Windows 7 guest.

Instability

However, there were issues with stability and I lost the ability to flit from the VM window to the Linux desktop at will with the system freezing on me and needing a reboot. Working in Windows 7 using full screen mode avoided this but it did feel as I was constrained to working in a Windows machine whenever I did so. The graphics performance was imperfect too with screening refreshing being very blocky with some momentary scrambling whenever I opened the Start menu. Others would not have been as patient with that as I was though there was the matter of an expensive Photoshop licence to be guarded too.

In hindsight, a bit of pruning could have helped. An example would have been driver housekeeping in the form of removing VirtualBox Guest Additions because they could have been conflicting with their VMware counterparts. For some reason, those thoughts entered my mind and I was pondering another more expensive option instead.

Considering NAS & Windows/Linux Networking

That would have taken the form of setting aside a PC for running Windows 7 and having a NAS for sharing files between it and my Linux system. In fact, I did get to exploring what a four bay QNAP TS-412 would offer me and realised that you cannot put normal desktop hard drives into devices like that. For a while, it looked as if it would be a matter of getting drives bundled with the device or acquiring enterprise grade disks so as to main the required continuity of operation. The final edition of PC Plus highlighted another one though: the Western Digital Red range. These are part way been desktop and enterprise classifications and have been developed in association with NAS makers too.

Looking at the NAS option certainly became an education but it has exited any sort of wish list that I have. After all, there is the cost of such a setup and it’s enough to get me asking if I really need such a thing. The purchase of a Netgear FS 605 ethernet switch would have helped incorporate it but there has been no trouble sorting alternative uses for it since it bumps up the number of networked devices that I can have, never a bad capability to have. As I was to find, there was a less expensive alternative that became sufficient for my needs.

In-situ Windows 8 Upgrade

Microsoft have been making available evaluation copies of Windows 8 Enterprise that last for 90 days before expiring. One is in my hands has been running faultlessly in a VMware virtual machine for the past few weeks. That made me wonder if upgrading from Windows 7 to Windows 8 help with my main Windows VM problems. Being a curious risk-taking type I decided to answer the question for myself using the £24.99 Windows Pro upgrade offer that Microsoft have been running for those not needing a disk up front; they need to pay £49.99 but you can get one afterwards for an extra £12.99 and £3.49 postage if you wish, a slightly cheaper option. There also was a time cost in that it occupied a lot of a weekend on me but it seems to have done what was needed so it was worth the outlay.

Given the element of risk, Photoshop was deactivated to be on the safe side. That wasn’t the only pre-upgrade action that was needed because the Windows 8 Pro 32-bit upgrade needs at least 16 GB before it will proceed. Of course, there was the matter of downloading the installer from the Microsoft website too. This took care of system evaluation and paying for the software as well as the actual upgrade itself.

The installation took a few hours with virtual machine reboots along the way. Naturally, the licence key was needed too as well as the selection of a few options though there weren’t many of these. Being able to carry over settings from the pre-exisiting Windows 7 instance certainly helped with this and with making the process smoother too. No software needed reinstatement and it doesn’t feel as if the system has forgotten very much at all, a successful outcome.

Post-upgrade Actions

Just because I had a working Windows 8 instance didn’t mean that there wasn’t more to be done. In fact, it was the post-upgrade sorting that took up more time than the actual installation. For one thing, my digital mapping software wouldn’t work without .Net Framework 3.5 and turning on the operating system feature form the Control Panel fell over at the point where it was being downloaded from the Microsoft Update website. Even removing Avira Internet Security after updating it to the latest version had no effect and it was a finding during the Windows 8 system evaluation process. The solution was to mount the Windows 8 Enterprise ISO installation image that I had and issue the following command from a command prompt running with administrative privileges (it’s all one line though that’s wrapped here):

dism.exe /online /enable-feature /featurename:NetFX3 /Source:d:\sources\sxs /LimitAccess

For sake of assurance regarding compatibility, Avira has been replaced with Trend Micro Titanium Internet Security. The Avira licence won’t go to waste since I have another another home in mind for it. Removing Avira without crashing Windows 8 proved impossible though and necessitating booting Windows 8 into Safe Mode. Because of much faster startup times, that cannot be achieved with a key press at the appropriate moment because the time window is too short now. One solution is to set the Safe Boot tickbox in the Boot tab of Msconfig (or System Configuration as it otherwise calls itself) before the machine is restarted. There may be others but this was the one that I used. With Avira removed, clearing the same setting and rebooting restored normal service.

Dealing with a Dual Personality

One observer has stated that Windows 8 gives you two operating systems for the price of one: the one in the Start screen and the one on the desktop. Having got to wanting to work with one at a time, I decided to make some adjustments. Adding Classic Shell got me back a Start menu and I left out the Windows Explorer (or File Explorer as it is known in Windows 8) and Internet Explorer components. Though Classic Shell will present a desktop like what we have been getting from Windows 7 by sweeping the Start screen out of the way for you, I found that this wasn’t quick enough for my liking so I added Skip Metro Suite to do this and it seemed to do that a little faster. The tool does more than sweeping the Start screen out of the way but I have switched off these functions. Classic Shell also has been configured so the Start screen can be accessed with a press of Windows key but you can have it as you wish. It has updated too so that boot into the desktop should be faster now. As for me, I’ll leave things as they are for now. Even the possibility of using Windows’ own functionality to go directly to the traditional desktop will be left untested while things are left to settle. Tinkering can need a break.

Outcome

After all that effort, I now have a seemingly more stable Windows virtual machine running Windows 8. Flitting between it and other Linux desktop applications has not caused a system freeze so far and that was the result that I wanted. There now is no need to consider having separate Windows and Linux PC’s with a NAS for sharing files between them so that option is well off my wish-list. There are better uses for my money.

Not everyone has had my experience though because I saw a report that one user failed to update a physical machine to Windows 8 and installed Ubuntu instead; they were a Linux user anyway even if they used Fedora more than Ubuntu. It is possible to roll back from Windows 8 to the previous version of Windows because there is a windows.old directory left primarily for that purpose. However, that may not help you if you have a partially operating system that doesn’t allow you to do just that. In time, I’ll remove it using the Disk Clean-up utility by asking it to remove previous Windows installations or running File Explorer with administrator privileges. Somehow, the former approach sounds the safer.

What About Installing Afresh?

While there was a time when I went solely for upgrades when moving from one version of Windows to the next, the annoyance of the process got to me. If I had known that installing the upgrade twice onto a computer with a clean disk would suffice, it would have saved me a lot. Staring from Windows 95 (from the days when you got a full installation disk with a PC and not the rescue media that we get now) and moving through a sequence of successors not only was time consuming but it also revealed the limitations of the first in the series when it came to supporting more recent hardware. It was enough to have me buying the full retailed editions of Windows XP and Windows 7 when they were released; the latter got downloaded directly from Microsoft. These were retail versions that you could move from one computer to another but Windows 8 will not be like that. In fact, you will need to get its System Builder edition from a reseller and that can only be used on one machine. It is the merging of the former retail and OEM product offerings.

What I have been reading is that the market for full retail versions of Windows was not a big one anyway. However, it was how I used to work as you have read above and it does give you a fresh system. Most probably get Windows with a new PC and don’t go building them from scratch like I have done for more than a decade. Maybe the System Builder version would apply to me anyway and it appears to be intended for virtual machine use as well as on physical ones. More care will be needed with those licences by the looks of things and I wonder what needs not to be changed so as not to invalidate a licence. After all, making a mistake might cost between £75 and £120 depending on the edition.

Final Thoughts

So far Windows 8 is treating me well and I have managed to bend to my will too, always a good thing to be able to say. In time, it might be that a System Builder copy could need buying yet but I’ll leave well alone for now. Though I needed new security software, the upgrade still saved me money over a hardware solution to my home computing needs and I have a backup disk on order from Microsoft too. That I have had to spend some time settling things was a means of learning new things for me but others may not be so patient and, with Windows 7 working well enough for most, you have to ask if it’s only curious folk like me who are taking the plunge. Still, the dramatic change has re-energised the PC world in an era when smartphones and tablets have made so much of the running recently. That too is no bad thing because an unchanging technology is one that dies and there are times when big changes are needed, as much as they upset some folk. For Microsoft, this looks like one of them and it’ll be interesting to see where things go from here for PC technology.

Adding a Start Menu to Windows 8

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

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.

A useful little device

Last weekend, I ran into quite a lot of bother with my wired broadband service. Eventually, after a few phone calls to my provider, it was traced to my local telephone exchange and took another few days before it finally got sorted. Before that, a new ADSL filter (from a nearby branch of Maplin as it happened) was needed because the old one didn’t work with my phone. Without that, it wouldn’t have been possible to debug what was happening with the broadband clashing with my phone with the way that I set up things. Resetting the router was next and then there was a password change before the exchange was blamed. After all that, connectivity is back again and I even upgraded in the middle of it all. Downloads are faster and television viewing is a lot, lot smoother too. Having seen fairly decent customer service throughout all this, I am planning to stick with my provider for a while longer too.

Of course, this outage could have left me disconnected from the Internet but for the rise of mobile broadband. Working off dongles is all very fine until coverage lets you down and that seems to be my experience with Vodafone at the moment. Another fly in the ointment was my having a locked down work laptop that didn’t entertain such the software installation that is needed for running these things, a not unexpected state of affairs though it is possible to connect over wired and wireless networks using VPN. With my needing to work from home on Monday, I really had to get that computer online. Saturday evening saw me getting my Toshiba laptop online using mobile broadband and then setting up an ad hoc network using Windows 7 to hook up the work laptop. To my relief, that did the trick but the next day saw me come across another option in Argos (the range of computing kit in there still continues to surprise me) that made life even easier.

While seeing if it was possible to connect a wired or wireless router to mobile broadband, I came across devices that both connected via the 3G network and acted as wireless routers too. Vodafone have an interesting option into which you can plug a standard mobile broadband dongle for the required functionality. For a while now, 3 has had its Mifi with the ability to connect to the mobile network and relay Wi-Fi signals too. Though it pioneered this as far as I know, others are following their lead with T-Mobile offering something similar: its Wireless Pointer. Unsurprisingly, Vodafone has its own too though I didn’t find and mention of mobile Wi-Fi on the O2 website.

That trip into Argos resulted in a return home to find out more about the latter device before making a purchase. Having had a broadly positive experience of T-Mobile’s network coverage, I was willing to go with it as long as it didn’t need a dongle. The T-Mobile one that I have seems not to be working properly so I needed to make sure that wasn’t going to be a problem before I spent any money. When I brought home the Wireless Pointer, I swapped the SIM card from the dongle to get going without too much to do. Thankfully, the Wi-Fi is secured using WPA2 and the documentation tells you where to get the entry key. Having things secured like this means that someone cannot fritter away your monthly allowance too and that’s as important for PAYG customers (like me) as much as those with a contract. Of course, eavesdropping is another possibility that is made more difficult too. So far, I have stuck with using it while plugged in to an electrical socket (USB computer connections are possible as well) but I need to check on the battery life too. Up to five devices can be connected by Wi-Fi and I can vouch that working with two connected devices is more than a possibility. My main PC has acquired a Belkin Wi-Fi dongle in order to use the Wireless Pointer too and that has worked very well too. In fact, I found that connectivity was independent of what operating system I used: Linux Mint, Ubuntu, Windows XP and Windows 7 all connected without any bother. The gadget fits in the palm of my hand too so it hardly can be called large but it does what it sets out to do and I have been glad to have it so far.