iTunes 12.3 Breaks Sync for Older Devices on Windows 10

by Ed Sparks

The increasingly creaky, bloated mess that is iTunes strikes again with the 12.3 release, which appears to have broken the ability to backup and sync older iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch devices.

While many users now backup their devices strictly to iCloud, Apple's 5 GB free offering is often insufficient to complete a backup. The security conscious also feel more comfortable having a backup locally stored and encrypted on their computers via iTunes. Using iTunes rather than iCloud also markedly improves the speed at which restores happen when switching to a new device.

It's ironic and bad timing that this flaw is occurring just as the iPhone 6S devices are being released, and many users want to therefore do just that - backup and restore their old 5 or 5S to their shiny new 6S. Well done, Apple.

It appears this issue is primarily occurring in iTunes on Windows 10, but others have reported it on Windows 7 and 8 as well, but only with the current released version of iTunes 12.3. There are many discussions about this in Apple's forums, but Apple doesn't seem to have acknowledged it formally, or offer much of a fix.

Here's how to solve the problem:

1. Close iTunes
2. Search for "Device Manager" and open it (you will need to be an Administrator or allow 
the prompt)
3. Find "Portable Devices" in the list, and expand to reveal Apple iPhone
4. Click on Properties, then the Driver Tab and click Update Driver
5. Choose the "Browse.." option then click on the Browse button and click through to 
C:\Program Files\Common Files\Apple\Mobile Device Support\Drivers
6. Click Next and Windows should install the correct driver.
7. Close the Driver Update window and Device Manager
8. Restart iTunes and reconnect your device, which should now show up in the top left 
corner as normal

Windows 10 Update Goodness

by Ed Sparks

Though on a slow boil since Microsoft first began announcing the changes to updating Windows 10, there's clearly some great thinking going on in this regard.

Two items we've found to be of great value in our first few weeks of Windows 10 are:

  • Cumulative Update Rollups
    Like many of their Server products, Microsoft is now rolling all of the Windows 10 Updates into single packages that replace the previous, and are also smart packages that only download what's new and changed to an individual system.  Plus, unlike older Windows releases that always promised to (but never really did) update during the Setup phase, this time it really does seem to work!

    What's wonderful about both of these changes is you don't finish installing a brand new copy of the OS only to sit fore 6 hours longer installing hundreds and hundreds of updates.  At most it's a few and a single reboot.   For almost all consumers and small business this is a huge win!
  • Smart Updater
    Unlike Windows XP, Vista or 7 which obsessively nagged with popups and prompts, or Windows 8 that didn't seem to tell you much of anything then would jarringly slap a full screen notification or do weird things with "Maintenance Cycles" that nobody understood, Windows 10 finally seems to have an updating system with some smarts.

    The OS will quietly do its thing with updates in the background, then throw an alert in the notification center that it needs a reboot.  You can go schedule a new time and - get this - if you're actually busy working away when the scheduled reboot time comes,  it knows you're in the middle of work and just shuts up and goes away.  It doesn't just mindlessly start rebooting! Genius.

    It appears the system looks for interactive input on the machine, and silently reschedules in the background for later in the middle of the night.  Good stuff!

Up Next!
Coming soon are a lot more changes as part of the Threshold 2 release (i.e. the real version of Windows 10) including the various Servicing Branches: Current Branch (CB), Current Branch for Business (CBB), and Long Term Service Branch (LTSB).  Plus, the related back-end service Windows Update for Business.  We can't wait!

We did, however, find it difficult to find documentation on the branches and what options and features comprise each.  The best information we've found is on a Betanews page linked here. It includes information on what is forced by default, what can be delayed, what components and apps are included by default, the delivery options (i.e. WSUS, WUB, SCCM, etc.), and how long the various updates can be pushed back before the system mus be brought up to a certain build.  The article includes a great Infographic from a company called Adaptiva which we've included below, as well.

What does seem consistent across the board is that for all branches except LTSB, security/critical updates will be pushed immediately - direct to the OS via WU/WUB or to WSUS/SCCM - regardless of the chosen options for "deferring upgrades" in Settings.  So it should be relatively easy to stay secure, but test new features on a more leisurely schedule. (i.e. wait for others to have problems.)

Microsoft really would do well to talk and document more about this soon.   Momentum is building, and some information would go a long way to inspiring confidence in this new system.

From Betanews/Adaptiva

From Betanews/Adaptiva

Lenovo Yoga on Windows 10

by Ed Sparks

Updated June 2016

It has often been a tricky process to locate all of the correct drivers for Windows-based systems after a clean install.  Windows 10 is doing a much better job of this in general, and Microsoft - somewhat controversially - is collecting and pushing newer (and hopefully more optimized) drivers via Windows Update. What's different from the past when using the Home or Pro versions of Windows 10, is the inability for users to opt out of these updates, except via a recently published tool.  We have to think this will get integrated into the OS UI directly at some point, but for now that's where things are at.
Update: they seem to have become much less aggressive at pushing these out, particularly video drivers. However, the Redstone builds still do not seem to have a native way to hide or block any updates, other than via delaying them via Windows Update for Business branches.

In our testing of the initial release of Windows 10 across various models, once again Lenovo consumer-class systems proved the most troublesome at getting all the functionality working smoothly.  What's particularly frustrating is the missing drivers are for core parts of the Windows 10 experience. None highlight this more than the Yoga 2 Pro and 3 models..

As convertible laptop/tablets they are prime candidates to utilize the Continuum feature built into Windows 10 to smoothly switch between a desktop focused and a tablet-oriented experience. Fire up your freshly installed copy of Windows 10 on these, however, doesn't work. Continuum has no idea you have a tablet, and flipping the screen around leaves you with a keyboard and mouse happily typing away from your knees. Wonderful.

Navigating Lenovo's support site - even the one dedicated to Windows 10 - presents a sea of circular links and pages, none of which ever bring you to a solutionLikewise their forums are the usual endless cries for help, and little valuable or official information. What also doesn't help is that Lenovo continuously changes the names and types of software that they arbitrarily bundle the required drivers with. "Yoga Mode Control," "Harmony (Picks)," "Energy Manager" etc. Good luck making heads or tails of that.

We have to again wonder why on an OS where user experience is so important, and meant to further push sales of these convertible systems, this is not BUILT INTO the OS?  There can't honestly be that many different types of sensors and hardware that support this across the ecosystem.

So, what works?  We've found the following are what's needed after Windows 10 to make these systems fully functional...for now.  Note that these options seem to work across all the various Yogas and other Lenovo tablet like consumer products.

Install this (chipset) and this (DPTF) - to fix missing devices in Device Manager.
Update: These are often no longer needed in the newer builds of Windows 10 (1511 and Redstone 1607 Insiders).

Install ONLY  this on a Yoga 3  ("Yoga Mode Control") or this on a Yoga 2 Pro ("Harmony") to restore tablet functionality.  This software runs services that disable the keyboard and trackpad when you switch to tablet mode, and triggers Continuum to sense you have a two-in-one.
pdate: Install only one of the above that applies to the appropriate model.  Yoga Mode Control itself (first link) has been known to blue screen older Yoga 2 Pro based systems.  Harmony includes an older version of this driver.

Our advice: skip everything else on Lenovo's site, and let the OS handle the drivers.  It's mostly junkware.  Particularly their ridiculous "Energy Manager" and "OneKey Optimizer" software.

Creating a Bootable Windows 10 USB for Lenovo Systems

by Ed Sparks

Lenovo makes a great deal of excellent, well-engineered hardware, but Lenovo makes some of the world's most truly awful software. They seemingly could care less about the user experience.

Time and time again they prove this with crappy driver support, the unforgivable "Superfish" debacle, a dizzying array of pre-loaded bloatware (even on their corporate systems), confusing and slow websites and obscure design decisions.  Who would think to make users hit a tiny pinhead button you can barely see to enter the System Settings. Better yet, make them hold down the FN key, instead of just hitting the F keys at startup. 

For example, on a $1500+ high-end Ultrabook, they seriously provide this utility - in 2015 - to upgrade your firmware.  Spare us.

Much of Microsoft's excellent work with Windows is undone by this consistently ignorant vendor, who is allegedly one of their biggest and best partners.  With friends like these, hey?

It was no surprise then when we went to install Windows 10 on multiple Lenovo systems that, of course, the normal utilities didn't work. Even Microsoft's provided utilities to create a bootable USB to install from scratch failed on Lenovos.  One of our systems even blue screened with INACESSIBLE_BOOT_DEVICE after attempting the upgrade.  

By contrast, the Dell and HP systems we tried: smooth sailing.

The issue with booting from USB on Lenovo systems like Yoga 2 Pro, Yoga 3 Pro, etc. is that they use the newer (and now fairly common) UEFI instead of the old BIOS.  But they, unlike many other vendors, very specifically need to boot from a USB disk formatted with a more obscure compatibility MBR Partition Scheme AND FAT32 file system.  No other combination will work, and your shiny new Lenovo will happily and continuously ignore your USB drive at boot.  

Ignore the other advice you may find online about switching to Legacy Modes and things of the such in the UEFI Settings.  You'll get yourself in a bigger mess, and screw up Secure Boot and lower performance.

The solution is to download the excellent free utility Rufus, and use it to create the correctly configured USB disk.

1. Use Microsoft's utility to download the combination 32 bit and 64 bit ISO installer.
This was the only option we could consistently get to work correctly.Let Microsoft's 
utility create a USB drive, then copy all the files and folders in the root to a temporary 
folder on your hard drive.Incidentally, you can sure tell a lot of care and attention was
put into this utility, hey Microsoft? cestina? Great default.
2. Run Rufus and choose MBR partition scheme for BIOS or UEFI. Leave everything else the 
same and click Start.
3. When complete, copy all the files and folders from your temporary location back into the root of your USB disk.

4. Connect to your Lenovo system and it should boot correctly.If it's not set to boot from USB, power it off, then press the tiny tiny dot on the side to do a custom startup, and 
choose Boot Menu

Thanks, once again, for the adventure Lenovo.

Alert! You can now get Cryptolocker just by visiting a Flash-enabled website

by Ed Sparks

The train wreck that is Adobe Flash continues!  As of this writing, it is possible for a website with the right (bad!) Flash content to use a combination of exploit code to infect computers with malware up to and including CryptoLocker (!!) just by visiting the site. No user interaction required.  This is about as bad as it gets, due to the ubiquity of Flash.  Steve Jobs' vendetta against this software was one of the times we fully agreed with him.

Image from ThreatPost

Image from ThreatPost

As is being widely reported, this is due to a (so far) unpatched flaw in the latest versions of Flash Player on Windows, and newly published exploit code by the "Hacking Team." Apparently - get this - hackers broke into the Hacking Team site and are now publishing their hacks, or something. We need to find these people a hobby, or Adobe needs to hire all of them.  

What can you do?  Update Flash the minute a new version is available, but more substantially it would be useful to start looking at the feasibility of broadly disabling it in your browser, as many sites are now switching primarily to HTML 5 content, and the majority of sites still requiring flash are older or advertising based.

Additionally, Administrators and Users can look at enabling the "Click to Play" functionality in many browsers.

More on the subject:

Microsoft Finally Building Canadian Data Centres and Region

by Ed Sparks

We were very excited today with Microsoft's announcement that they will be building data centres in Ontario and Quebec, and creating a Canadian region for Azure and Office 365.

This will dramatically expand the potential to help more of our customers move their data to the cloud, while ensuring they meet privacy and regulatory requirements to keep data in Canada.

Unfortunately, this doesn't appear to be live until 2016, but superb news nonetheless.

They even flew Kevin Turner in to help make the announcement.

Microsoft today announced plans to deliver commercial cloud services from Canada. Azure, Office 365 and Dynamics CRM Online will be delivered from Toronto and Quebec City in 2016, further strengthening Microsoft’s footprint in Canada’s competitive cloud landscape.

These new locally deployed services will address data residency considerations for Microsoft customers and partners of all shapes and sizes who are embracing cloud computing to transform their businesses, better manage variable workloads and deliver new digital services and experiences to customers and employees. General availability of Azure is anticipated in early 2016, followed by Office 365 and Dynamics CRM Online later in 2016

The full press release is available here.

We look forward to helping more Canadian customers migrate to the cloud soon!

Contact us today to get planning!