Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Why I’ll never buy another Dell

I’m a windows developer, and have bought quite a few Dell PC’s over the years (since 1989 in fact), and have recommended them to clients.

Today, I was just about finished setting up the third Dell for a client, this one a Vostro 3360 running Windows 8.  My normal installation procedure is this.

  1. Make the set of system recover disks from the manufacturer’s program if they’re not included, or alternatively make a system image using Windows backup.
  2. Uninstall any vendor supplied anti-virus, and then install Microsoft Security Essentials
  3. Install all of the Windows updates on the machine.
  4. Install any additional software the client purchased (e.g. Office)
  5. Install Windows Live Essentials
  6. Keep applying Windows Updates, until there are none left, restarting after each.

When all of the Windows Updates have completed, make a final system image, using the Windows supplied software.  On Windows 8 this is called, the Windows 7 File Recovery (I’m not kidding).

Now, I used not to do step one, but an HP machine I wrote about a few months back made me glad I do, as the system was basically unusable after a Windows Update, but that’s another story.

This time though I made the choice not to take step 1 first, and once again regretted it.

Everything went fine, the system updated ok, and when I got to the stage of making a final system image, everything went wrong.  The system was unable to make a system image.  Without a DVD drive, we’re pretty much stuck.

What Went Wrong?

It appears the the out of factory configuration has created a partition that’s too small to create a snapshot using the Shadow Copy Service, and therefore the backup could not be made.  Initially the error message indicated that a drive was too small, and I assumed there was some problem with the external USB drive, being only 467 GB on a 500 GB system, so I removed the other partitions, and tried again, with nearly 1GB free.

No Joy.  So I tried to backup across a network.  Again, no joy. 

In the end, the nice Dell support man told me that they don’t support Windows 8’s built in backup and I’d have to pay another £31 + VAT to get the Dell backup utility.  But when asked they also said that it used the volume shadow copy service (as most programs will when making a backup).  Not wanting to throw good money after bad, we called the sales rep, who said they could issue us a code free to get the backup software.

But when we called the number, they wouldn’t.

Had I gone straight to step 1 instead of skipping it before installing everything else, I would have saved myself hours of time, and gigabytes of bandwidth. Had the customer not chosen a Dell Vostro 3360, I also would have saved hours of time, as the other two Dells I set up this week worked fine (with Windows 7 though, not Windows 8).

So, all in all pretty unsatisfactory.  I’ve wasted time, the customer doesn’t want to pay for the lost time and send the machine back as unmerchantable, but it’s also vulnerable to failure now.

Hopefully, Dell will find a resolution for us, but for now, I know what systems I’ll be telling people to avoid.  You’ve been warned.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Using a 32 GB Surface

I managed to get my hands on a Surface, and was looking into ways to expand the memory using a 64 GB SD card.  There are quite a few suggestions on the web that you can mount the card into an empty folder, and then add these folders to various libraries.

This though doesn’t deal with how to install applications to another folder.

I found several references around the web, that suggests changing a registry key:


I did this by changing the owner to my account from trusted installer, then afterward, set the owner back by using “NT SERVICE\TrustedInstaller”

However, this doesn’t behave exactly as you might expect, as any existing apps on your machine cannot be updated after this.  More interestingly, I found that I had multiple copies of apps like “Sport” installed on the machine, because they hadn’t all been updated.

So, I’ve now paved the surface, to try again from scratch, knowing what I do now.

After the pave

I created a single user with using a local account, and tried to uninstall the Travel and Sport Apps.  Much to my surprise the apps were still present on the disk.  So I went to the store to see my apps, but it insisted that I sign in with a live account, so I did.

I then decided to try to update just one of the apps (maps) to see what happened to the existing app.  What happens is that the update app is added to the system, but in addition, the old original version stays there.

So, it looks like there’s no way to remove these old versions.  I assume this is to allow users to create a new user, and still get the default apps.

It gets worse

I uninstalled all of the default apps (apart from internet explorer), and all of the pre-installed apps were still present.  So, I decided to see what windows update had in for me.

When I first got my hands on the surface, it informed me it needed a firmware update.  I was a little surprised that I needed to install this too, as I had assumed firmware was firmware.  Obviously a pave wipes absolutely everything, so I now have 21 updates to reinstall.

Fingers crossed.