WinX: The case of the missing Windows 8 right-click Admin Menu

by Ed Sparks

Windows 8.x features a very useful right-click context menu that offers quick access to many common administrative tasks. While this was initially a concession Microsoft made for the ridiculous misguided removal of the Start Menu, after using this for a short period of time it quickly becomes obvious how much better this is than the random collection of places these shortcuts existed in the past UIs.

Periodically, however, Windows will lose track of these shortcuts and right clicking the Start Button will result in...nothing.  Most often this issue presents itself due to an apparent bug in Sysprep, or with Roaming Profiles between different versions of Windows.


What few people know is that this menu (known internally as "Win+X") is actually created on the fly from a list of shortcuts stored in the file system.



Not only can this menu therefore be customized by modifying shortcuts in these folders, but it also leads to our solution to fix the mysteriously non-working menu.


  1. Log in as the administrative user experiencing the "no right click admin menu" issue
  2. Open File Explorer, and in the address bar type 

  3. This will open a local application data folder of the Default user profile, containing a WinX folder.  Right-click to Copy this folder
  4. Again, in the address bar of File Explorer, delete the contents and type

    %localappdata% (including the % signs)
  5. This will open the current (broken) user's local application data folders
  6. Navigate below here to Microsoft\Windows\
  7. Paste in the WinX folder previously copied into this location
  8. Log out and back in as the user, and the context menu should work correctly

Offline Files Service Crashing/Unavailable

by Ed Sparks

A common scenario that bites many a company that extensively uses Windows imaging for deployments, is that Offline Files completely melts down after a newly imaged system is setup.

This will show up in the event logs as the Offline Files service being unable to start, Folder Redirection breaking etc.  The first sign is usually a system event log error like

Windows could not start the Offline Files service.
Error 3: The system cannot find the path specified.

The best resolution is to make sure the reference system (where you took the image from) always has Offline Files disabled before the image is taken, in addition to Sysprep being run.

However, if you've already taken an and applied an image and have a broken system, then thankfully the fix is simple.  Just set a registry key to reset ("Format") the Offline Files ("Client side cache") database.  On Windows 7 and 8, this can be easily done by running the following from an Administrative command line:

REG ADD "HKLM\System\CurrentControlSet\Services\CSC\Parameters" /v FormatDatabase /t REG_DWORD /d 1 /f

Reboot the computer, and the Offline Files database will be reset and recreated.  Offline Files should start normally, and things like Folder Redirection and the like will follow.


Offline Files, Folder Redirection and DFS are some of the most complex to configure Microsoft technologies with an enormous amount of gotchas and hotfixes.  It's one of our most frequently requested support items from customers.   We've developed a great deal of expertise and best practices around these and will be posting an article soon detailing our findings.

In the meantime, why not contact us to help today!

The shockingly easy way to hack or reset a forgotten Windows password

by Ed Sparks

This trick has been around for years, and long assumed fixed.  Surprisingly, while recently investigating a related issue we discovered this one is still going strong in Windows 7 and 8 (along with Vista, where it originated).

Image Courtesy Icone-gif

Image Courtesy Icone-gif

In what has become known as the "Utilman Trick," if you are able to physically access a system and boot from a Windows install or recovery disk, you can quickly change a file, reboot into the original Windows install and with a few clicks change the password of any account.  You can also create new accounts, and perform all order of administrative management.

While Bitlocker, or physically denying access to the system will obviously solve this, it's shocking that this continues to exist.

The details, and simple process are well documented here at Technibble, among hundreds of other places.

Here it is in a nutshell:

1. Recovery Boot

cd windows\system32
ren utilman.exe utilman.exe.bak
copy cmd.exe utilman.exe

2. Normal boot

net user administrator newpassword

Yes, really!

Windows 8.1 Looks Promising (ish)!

by Ed Sparks

We've been playing with the Windows 8.1 Preview Release for a few weeks, and it looks like a strong upgrade that mostly cleans up the half-baked feel of Windows 8. 

The whole thing feels more polished and refined, and even in this preview stage they're clearly hitting the mark and making it a more useful and livable OS regardless if you choose the Modern or "traditional" Desktop world.  It's just some compromise, instead of all compromise. Windows Server 2012 R2 looks just as good, though honestly guys just scrap Metro on this thing.  Please.  Seriously.  NOBODY wants this.

Let's hope they get this right, as it would be great to have this OS we know (and love?) succeed into the next generation.  This at least gives us hope, especially if they can get Surface 2.0 devices right too.

A Few Quirks 
We are seeing a few glitches, though this is to be expected with a beta - err - preview release. 

Skydrive is now fully integrated (and properly!) into the OS both on the Desktop and Metro side. There's nothing extra to install and your cloud storage shows up just as if it were local. However, it doesn't sync everything by default anymore.  In fact, the exact opposite - everything is cloud first, which makes a lot of sense.  
The problem?  On many of our upgraded test systems it doesn't sync anything at all, due to some glitchy upgrade code.  This seems to be the result of broken interaction between the former standalone desktop Skydrive client, and the new built-in version.

The Fixes

  1. Make sure you have no junction/mount points defined anywhere in your old Skydrive path (c:\users\<username>\skydrive usually).  These immediately break things, though they were never really supported.
  2. Check Task Manager to make sure the skydrive.exe executable is not running, then open up %localappdata%\Microsoft\Windows\Skydrive.  Delete all the contents of this folder, then from a Run dialog, type 'skydrive.exe' and click OK.  Again check if skydrive.exe is running in Task Manager and that everything is now syncing.

The other big problem we're seeing?  It's unstable - very!.  So far it crashes at least once a day.  We're talking hard system reboot crashes (though oddly not blue screens).  So far it seems video driver related.  Fingers crossed that's just an early preview glitch.

The good news is Microsoft seems to be aggressively updating this through Windows Update, and often!

Wish List

  1. Notification Centre.  It's beyond annoying that alerts popup everywhere for just a few seconds, that can then never be found again.  The Start Screen Live Tiles don't help, as they only show a tiny bit of what's going on, and offer no deep-linking support (i.e. if I click a Start Screen icon with information showing, I'm not actually taken to that information - just the app in general, which is stupid).  Come on - you even have a button called "Notifications" in the Settings Bar.  How about clicking that brings up all the notifications? Just a thought guys!
  2. System-wide media controls.  Snapping any media-related app just so one can pause, skip or change the volume is stupid.  Android and iOS handle this WAY better. Just make this part of the (still ridiculously named) Charms Bar.  It's got loads of wasted space. 

Fix All-User Install Agent Errors on Windows 8

by Ed Sparks

Updated July 2014

We're seeing an increasing trend of the following error displaying upon logon to many of our client's computers running Windows 8.0  Oddly this seems to be happening more on Windows 8 "Core" (what you receive on a consumer system), versus Windows 8 Pro or Enterprise in the corporate environment. 

Windows couldn't connect to the windows all-user install agent service. Please consult your system administrator.

An investigation points to what appears to be some pretty buggy code in this particular service, which handles the installation of AppX (Metro/Tile World/Windows Store) applications. Somehow this service is crashing, and then further getting set to a Disabled state.

Most often, this problem will prevent standard (non-administrator) users from successfully logging on to the computer, or running certain Modern Apps or even Desktop software.

To fix this issue, you must be able to logon as an account that is in the Local Administrators group.  Once logged on as an Admin, resolving the issue is relatively simple. 

Open a Command Prompt As Administrator (this can be done from the Start Screen by searching for CMD, and then right click on the Command Prompt tile and choose Run as Administrator from the App Bar).  Then, execute the following three commands:

sc config AllUserInstallAgent start=demand
net start AllUserInstallAgent
sfc /scannow

The first two commands change the startup type of the required problem service, and the third will check for other corrupt file issues in your Windows installation.  It will take a good while to complete.  When all of the above are finished (whether fully successful or not), you must then instruct Windows 8 to do a FULL shutdown, as on most new computers it performs a hybrid shutdown by default which will not reinitialise all the necessary components.  Again, from the same Administrative Command Prompt type:

shutdown /s /f /t 5 

Turn your computer back on after its shut down fully and the errors should be resolved.  Still no word on an official fix from Microsoft yet.

Also of note, this only seems to affect original Windows 8, and not Windows 8.1.  In fact, this service has been removed completely on Windows 8.1.  

Not charmed? Restart Windows 8 or Server 2012 Quickly!

by Ed Sparks

Another gem from Jeff over at the EXPTA blog!

Microsoft and their crazy need to make previously simple tasks complicated in Windows 8...all in the name of ease, or something.

Here's a quick tip on how to sign out, shutdown or restart Windows 8 or Windows Server 2012 from the desktop the easy way.  Simply click the Windows Taskbar to give focus to the desktop and press Alt-F4

Goodbye imageX, hello DISM for Windows 8 Imaging and Deployment

by Ed Sparks
This article seems to be getting a tremendous amount of traffic!
Leave a comment with any suggestions or questions you might have about Windows 8 deployment.  Contact us for help with your project too!

A quick note for those starting to work with Windows 8 deployment, or just playing around with images.

ImageX has been flagged by Microsoft as a deprecated utility, and has been replaced with DISM - Deployment Image Servicing and Management.  Catchy.  There's no Metro/Windows-8/Store-style/Technologywithoutaname version, though.

The good news is that DISM is an excellent replacement and has matured quite a bit since ImageX, while still keeping most of the same command structure.

In our testing it has proven much quicker and more reliable, and is built into Windows 8, Server 2012 and PE 4.

There's even PowerShell commandlets to do all sorts of useful things.

Find out more by running from an Administrative command prompt:

dism /?

Our one-liner quick and dirty capture/deploy commands for a standard Windows install is as follows:

1. Plug in a large USB drive 

2. Boot into Windows PE 4 (here's how)

3. At the command prompt find out the drive letter of your USB drive (e: in the example below) then execute:

dism /Capture-Image /ImageFile:d:\my-windows-partition.wim /CaptureDir:e:\ /Name:"My Windows Partition"

To then place this image on a new drive or rebuild, do the opposite,  again while booted into PE 4

dism /Apply-Image /ImageFile:d:\my-windows-partition.wim /index:1 /ApplyDir:C:\


Further reading: