Part 1. – Catching up…
I might like to say that I’m retired from the PC business, but it’s also true that the PC repair business went away from me. When smartphone “apps” took over, I saw many PC’s being put aside. People began buying tablets to watch Netflix on and it just didn’t seem worthwhile for users to pay upwards of $150 to repair a PC when many of its functions had been taken over by their phones or tablets. And phones or tablets usually came with some sort of user “Reset” facility, which replaced my “Repair” function in most cases.
Microsoft and Windows must also take much of the blame. I was very much known as a “Windows” expert, so when Windows lost its dominance over the marketplace to Android and IOS, my skills became less required. As I am fond of saying, after MS bailing Apple out in their early history, Apple has apparently, and with finality, won that war – their OS being everywhere and MS being relegated to the sidelines. It’s worthy of note though, that despite years of philanthropy, Bill Gates is still listed by Forbes as the richest person in the world.
I also must accept much of the responsibility myself. I made a conscious choice (due to my age and a declining wish to learn new things) to not learn about Windows 10 as I had about every prior version of Windows. I stuck with Windows 7 on my main PC (considering it the best desktop OS by far) and only “viewed” Windows 10 without actually using it or learning how to repair it. As what was left of PC users rapidly adopted W10, due in no small part to a very aggressive free upgrade program by MicroSoft, I instead got an iPhone and learned about it from a User’s perspective.
My last post to this blog was in June 2015, almost 2 years and a lifetime ago. At one time I managed a home network of 4 PCs, a laptop, a server, a tablet or two, and a network printer. There was also a SlingBox, a device which broadcast our TV signal out through the internet to our enabled phones. Oh, yes. And a couple of iPhones. Due to recent “life changes” I have since re-located to a smaller apartment and also downsized the network.
I moved with 1 PC and a Surface Tablet, as well as an iPhone and the network printer. The de-commissioning of the server meant that I had to reconfigure my storage, which was actually a plus because it required me to re-think my storage needs. I was “grand-fathered” into additional free storage on OneDrive as part of my Hotmail account, and with a couple of exceptions I was able to pare things down and move all my documents and my photos to the cloud, replicating the OneDrive to a local PC for backup. Those exceptions were my Music and my Download folders, which I saved separately on several of the spare hard drives I still have lying around.
In reality, this process saved me when the PC abruptly stopped working about a month ago. Since most of my stuff was “In the Cloud”, I was able to diagnose the CPU fan as the problem and declare the unit “Toast” with little effort and thought about loss of documents or information. Most of the work came to re-configuring the Surface Tablet as my main unit – and that was little more than hooking up an external display and a USB Wireless Mouse/Keyboard combo, and placing shortcuts on the desktop to the various websites that I use on a daily basis. I realized at that time that most of my activities revolved around the web, that there was little doing of things locally. The main “local” installation, besides the printer, was MS Office 2010, a holdover from my TechNet days. Even that pointed OneNote and Outlook to accounts that were actually on the web.
Now I just feel old. I am no longer in the PC business and the world has moved on in many ways. The world today is much different from the one I grew up in. And very different from what I expected. And the people seem quite different also. Like I said, I just feel old…
And now I’m merely a consumer, playing away on my Surface desktop, exploring the world around me, and enjoying thinking of the different gadgets that abound and the uses people have found for them. Now computers are ubiquitous and we mostly don’t see them or they are part of something else and we take them for granted. Many of them have touch or voice enabled interfaces but they’re all just screens and the internet does the real computing.
I still have the iPhone and find I use it more than a PC. I seem to use the Surface as a desktop (except when I take it out to use as mobile, of course) mainly when browsing, reading or editing, or watching videos – things where the 19” external monitor has an advantage. Strangely, when I see a notification on the screen that I have an email, I usually check the email on my phone while I continue what I was doing on-screen. And some things, like Facebook, banking or Blue Cross (I make a claim on my medical insurance by using their phone app to take a picture of the receipt, similarly to depositing a cheque) actually seem easier on the phone.
Many of us have AI (Artificial Intelligence) assistants like “Siri’, “Cortana”, “Hey Google” or “Alexa “ and we just tell the devices verbally what to do. Despite appearing to be on our Phones, Siri and the like actually exist only on the web, and our requests are sent to the internet for reply. Children are being brought up in a world where a computer playmate, such as “All-Day Elmo” is a common thing. And how young are they teaching them how to use an iPad? It amazes me to think what effect this will have on the future. And we’ve just found that in some cases, these devices can be subpoenaed and testify against us.
I may be only a consumer at this point, but for now I like to think my past makes me more “technically-aware” than most. Particularly when using a Surface and Windows 10. So I wonder how an ordinary user would handle the following scenario, which befell me last week.
Part 2 – What Happened.
It started with me exploring Paint – a small, very basic utility that has come with Windows since at least version 3.x. I noticed that MS had just upgraded it to Paint 3D, the first major change since that time and I decided to look at it further. The problem was – I didn’t have it. Apparently it was part of the Anniversary Update (1703) released in March, and for some reason that update was shown as “Failed” in Windows Update History on my Surface. Hmmm…
Failure of an update to install is not unusual. Over the years I had seen many such scenarios. Often they resolved merely by installing the update manually, so that is what I tried. After taking almost 2 hours to get to 90%, the update failed and the screen went to “rolling back to your previous OS”. I expected another 2 hours to get back to where I was, so I went about some business elsewhere. Upon returning, I found the same screen. Watching it closely, I saw that it was actually rebooting, flashing “attempting to recover” very briefly then the “Rolling back” screen for a short time, then again a reboot and the scenario repeated. It was stuck in a “loop”. I let the loop go on while I thought about it for a while, hoping it would finish but it never did – always “recovering” and “rolling back”. Both the update and the previous OS were somehow corrupted and unbootable.
Now I had a problem…
At that point I would normally go to another PC and start researching solutions. Since I had no other PC, only my phone, I was limited as to what I could find. I had once found a means to break out of a similar loop with an XP update by booting to CD and deleting an “xml” file, but even if I were to find such a fix, how could I interrupt the update loop that was confronting me and boot into a repair environment.
All the Windows 10 “diagnostic” starts assumed a functional Windows to invoke it from, so I was limited by the hardware’s ability to interrupt the boot – and I quickly found that the only way I could do that was to force-boot the unit to a Windows 10 Install “Stick” which I had created some unknown time ago. Doing that, I found that the “Repair” and “Reset” functions from the install disk were too old to operate on the newer installed Windows files and the only solution available was a clean install from the Windows 10 stick. This caused me to pause and think again about my data before continuing. But I was comfortable about my data, and I had no choice but to continue the clean install.
The Surface had only a 64Gb main drive, so there was no room to do a “Parallel” installation, and removing the existing partitions and reformatting seemed the only way to go. The install seemed to go smoothly, but I immediately noticed a problem at login – it would only accept a “local” username, not the MS login I was expecting. Looking further I found that no wireless drivers had been installed and therefore internet access was not available. I realized that I had seen this problem before, back when I had previously installed from a newly-created USB Stick (probably the same one) and found that for some reason MS had NOT included the drivers for the wireless chips installed in the MS Surface in the downloadable ISO file provided for re-installation. They were available seperately, so at that time I had used another PC to get them and put them on a USB Stick. Since I had no drivers now, and no available internet to get them from and no other PC to work with, I could think of few options.
But now I did have a functional Windows (no wireless, but I did have USB) and I was able to find, on one of my “Backup” disks, an image of the Surface taken in September 2015. Since the device was USB I was able to access it from the Surface. There was a moment when I realized I would have to boot from the stick and then remove it to insert the drive with the Image on it, but the routine accepted the change, found the image, and the restore process went smoothly from there..
Now thanks to restoring a previous fully-functional image, I had wireless, and thus the internet, on the Surface. But it was from 2015. I still wasn’t anyways near where I started. I again started the update process on the Surface and all were successful until it came to the “Version Update to 1607” where it failed the update again. And again I waited while it “rolled back”. And then I tried it again just to be sure. And it failed again. And rolled back again.
But now that I had a fully-functional Windows to play with. I was able to download the “iso” for the latest version (1703) and save it on the Stick (overwriting the previous Install files). After taking care to download the wireless drivers first, I began the clean re-install with Version 1703. However, I was pleasantly surprised when the drivers were included with the iso this time and my backups were not needed.
Now I had the 1703 version of Windows 10, including the Anniversary Update and, finally, Paint 3D. All I had left to do was reconfigure the Surface with my desktop shortcuts and replicate my OneDrive. I also copied the music over onto the 64GB MicroSD drive installed in the unit for additional storage and did some other minor re-configurations. I was surprised how much of the Windows customizations were saved automatically via my OneDrive and returned to the Surface just as automatically. After re-installation, I used an adapter to explore the SATA drives that used to be in the PC. I found where I had saved my Download folder and was able to re-install Office 2010 and activate it without problem. I then marked and saved the version 1703 Stick, and performed an image backup of the current setup – the Windows 7 Backup program is included with Windows 10. Now, I think, I’m ready for next time.
I wonder how a normal user would fare with the above.