AOMEI Image Deploy

Deploy a consistent drive image to any networked PC with this must have Windows tool.

Whether you’re a tech savvy consumer or an IT tech looking to make your life easier, one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever seen faced is building and deploying a consistent PC image. What I mean is – have you ever taken the time to build your PC’s Windows installation and gotten it JUST the way you want it, only to have viruses and bad software make it the worst PC you’ve ever seen? I have; and it’s frustrating beyond words trying to get it back to the way it was before everything went sideways. That is… until now.

This is the biggest reason why I like AOMEI Image Deploy. It’s a Windows tool that allows you to quickly and very easily put a standardized image on any PC connected to your (home or corporate) network.

In a corporate or business IT setting, IT techs often deploy specific desktop and laptop hardware. They often take time to craft one installation on each of the hardware types they support and then take a snapshot or image of the drive. The idea here is to deploy the exact SAME Windows build and software installs to each and every like piece of hardware you support. Then, when you have a faulty drive or the need to recreate that install elsewhere, it’s very easy to get that computer back to where it was. Troubleshooting takes minutes instead of hours.

If you opt to pay for AOMEI Image Deploy Technician, the app provides support for dissimilar hardware. This will allow you to deploy a single image to multiple clients, even if those computers are configured with different components. Having different drives, graphic boards, mother boards, etc. won’t mater. You’ll be able to ensure normal system startup on Dells, Lenovo’s, etc. with the same image.

AOMEI Image Deploy is a free image deployment and network cloning app that supports deploying and restoring images to multiple computers over a network. It will not only offer a free deployment solution, but it will allow you to do it simultaneously.

App Pro’s: End to end Free deployment solution, Easy to use, can deploy a single image to a number of different PC’s simultaneously

App Con’s: Free version doesn’t support dissimilar hardware, Technician Edition is $200USD, Free version has low priority support

Conclusion: While I have never been a PC tech, I’ve gone down the image deployment route for my own PC restore needs. With the large number of shareware titles I’ve reviewed over the years, having an app like AOMEI Image Deploy would have made my life SOOOO much easier. All you need is a standard image and a network connection. The software will do the rest. Images deployed by AID are created in AOMEI Backuper. Thankfully, that app is ALSO free and available here on Soft32.com.

The images are easily created and stored. The deployment software is easy to use. Since both are free, this is probably one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever had to make.

Please note that AOMEI Image Deploy it works only in conjunction with the company’s AOMEI Backupper Professional Edition backup software.

URL: http://aomei-image-deploy-free.soft32.com/

 

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Microsoft Replaces Placeholders with Files on Demand

OneDrive’s Placeholders have finally gotten a replacement on Windows 10…

I think nearly everyone will agree – Windows 8 was pretty much a train wreck. The OS confused nearly everyone that used it; and that confusion came in the guise of a tablet “interface” that had features missing, existing features deprecated, and a new set of applications that just didn’t fit the design language that everyone was used to when it came to Windows.

However, there was one thing that came out of it that nearly everyone, present company included, really liked, and that was OneDrive Placeholders.

Placeholders in OneDrive were special file stubs that looked like your documents but actually just “took the place” of the actual document. When you actually wanted or needed to edit the actual file, you could double click on it to open it or sync the actual copy down to your hard drive and use it as you normally would. Placeholders were a wonderful way to seeing every file that was stored on OneDrive. This was especially helpful so that you wouldn’t have to choose what files to have on your PC or not. You could bring down what you needed and the rest was done with Placeholders.

Unfortunately, the version of OneDrive that came with Windows 8.x was not compatible with Windows 10. Microsoft further deprecated all subsequent versions of OneDrive so that all platforms (all versions of Windows, macOS, etc.) ran off the same sync engine. Placeholders, we were told would come back at a later date.

My friends… that time has come.

As part of the latest Windows Insider build on the Fast Ring – Build 16215 – Microsoft is releasing a new OneDrive client that has a new feature called Files On-Demand. In an entry on the Windows Blog, Dona Sarkar, a software engineer in the Windows and Devices Group at Microsoft noted,

“With Files On-Demand, you can access all your files in the cloud without having to download them and use storage space on your device. All your files—even online-only files—can be seen in File Explorer and work just like every other file on your device. You’ll be able to open online-only files from within any desktop or Windows Store apps using the Windows file picker. And you’re covered in both your home and professional life since it works with your personal and work OneDrive, as well as your SharePoint Online team sites.”

The updated OneDrive client will be rolling out over the next few days but can also be installed from here.

After enabling Files On-Demand in the updated OneDrive client, your files will have an “Online-Only” status and be shown with an icon with a “cloud” overlay, similar to what you see below. Local files will have a green checkmark with a white background. Always available files (those that are marked, “always keep on this device”) will have a white checkmark with a green background. Examples of all three icons can be seen immediately below.

Please note that installing this version of the OneDrive client on any other Windows version – for example, Windows 7 – won’t enable the feature. The feature is dependent upon the latest Fast Ring Build, currently Build 16215. Release notes for that build can be found here.

When installed on a Windows 10 PC with the right Fast Ring Build, the user will see the following when they click on the OneDrive icon in their system tray:

Unfortunately, for me, I don’t sit in the Fast Ring any longer. I’ve had too many issues with prerelease versions of Windows to understand that if I want my Surface Book (or other designated Windows 10 PC) to run without issue or problems, I need to stay away from them. It’s really a one way move. Every time I’ve tried to reset my PC back to a released version of Windows 10, its died.

Files On-Demand is currently scheduled to be part of the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, due out sometime in Q3 2017.

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Wondershare Video Converter Ultimate

Download, Convert and burn your videos to DVD’s with this easy to use cross-platform tool.

When you’re a parent or grandparent, believe it or not, video is what you live for. Thirty to forty years ago, it used to be pictures. Grandparents would patiently wait for pictures of their grandchildren to come in the mail; or they’d be hand delivered to them. Either way, what they got were physical stills, and that’s about it.

Today, it’s a completely different story.

Today with smartphones and with the internet, parents (and grandparents alike) can take and share not only stills but video with nearly everyone, at any time. However, not everyone is as technology savvy as the next person. Sometimes, you need a different, more traditional way to share video. That’s why I like Wondershare Video Converter Ultimate. It’s a cross platform (Windows and Mac) tool that allows you to share your story regardless of computer type.

Wondershare Video Converter Ultimate is an all-in-one multimedia suite that enables you to extract audio from videos, convert videos to any popular format with zero quality loss and 30x faster conversion speed. With it you can transform any home DVD movie to nearly any format you want, burn & copy home DVDs, provide one-click online video download, edit videos and more. The package is very compact and easy to use.

Wondershare Video Converter Ultimate supports native codecs like Apple Pores, Intermediate Codec, and DNxHD, so you can convert videos to one optimized format for iMovie, FCP etc., and then edit them for the best overall effect. The process is fast, over 30x faster than previous versions; and allows you to convert both audio and video to and from over 70 different formats. The app also supports native codec support for professional apps like Final Cut Pro.

App Pro’s: Works on both Mac and Windows platforms, provides for conversion, downloading

App Con’s: Not all web browser extensions install correctly

Conclusion: Wondershare Video Converter Ultimate is an easy to use multi-platform application that is fast and easy to use. You can use it not only to download non-copy protected videos from the internet; but you can use it to burn DVD’s with cool menu systems as well.

The app runs off of a subscription service, costing $40USD per year for a single computer license. You can also purchase a single, lifetime license for $60USD. A family license (2-5 computers) for $118USD for Macs and $100USD for Windows PC’s.

I’ve really liked using this app. It’s easy to use and offers a great many features that you would normally only find on a much more expensive, desktop app. The only issue I’ve had with this app is the installation of its Chrome Extension. The process generates an HTTP404 error, clearly indicating that either the application is in error, or the extension location in the store has been moved.

URL: http://wondershare-video-converter-ultimate-mac-version.soft32.com/

 

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Surface Book Supplies are Constrained – Part 2

This is not something you want to hear when you’ve got a fatal problem with your Surface Book…

Last time, I waxed poetically about how my three month old Surface Book turned up defective. It wasn’t a happy time over here, and I did my best to get Microsoft to cover its replacement under warranty. I was successful, but it took a bit of doing on my part; and it also uncovered an unknown and previously unannounced product constraint on the Surface Book.

There are effectively no additional units to be had (as of 10 days ago, based on the date that I’m writing this, 2017-06-12). I guess this just really bothers me. When something like this happened to me with my Surface Pro 3 a couple of years ago, product constraints weren’t an issue. I was able to get everything swapped out without issue. Now, there’s a problem getting replacement Surface Book units.

I was a bit curious about all of this, so I contacted my good friend, Mary Jo Foley, through Twitter:

I had heard about the rumor that Surface Book may be replaced, but it seemed to me to be insubstantial. I’m also not buying that the product’s supplies are being constrained NOW for a refresh later this year.

Yeah… I trust MJF completely, but I find that her not having heard anything about the current constraint to be concerning. She usually has the inside track (hence the “All About Microsoft” thing and her going so well together.

Since this whole incident went down, almost 10 days ago, things have been going pretty well over here for me and my Surface Book. However, this is not the first time that I’ve had a Surface device die on me when trying to restore the device to a previous version of Windows.

It happened twice with my Surface Pro 3, as well.

I don’t know if this speaks to a problem with the SSD, the SSD drive controller, the driver for the SSD or the controller, or just the process in general. However, to be honest, this is not something that I really want to repeat, any time soon. It’s gotten to the point where I really don’t have any trust in the Windows 10 Restore process.

I think it would have been fine if I had started everything with the Surface Book Recovery Image Image; but in truth, I don’t know for certain. It may just have been a bad controller. However, I wasn’t experiencing any issues or problems with my Surface Book that would leave me to believe I had a hardware issue. I just wanted to return to the previous build, which shouldn’t have been a problem. As soon as the device restarted for the first time, things went sideways.

If this were just an issue with the SSD (and not, as I have postulated, the drive controller), then the device should have started up from the Recovery USB stick. We should have gotten a different set of screens. Instead, all we saw was a flashing Surface Logo and the UEFI setup screens.

I think the things I find most concerning about all of this are the following:

1. No one seems to know what that drive icon with the “X” through it on the UEFI setup screen really means.
Is it a bad driver, bad drive or bad drive controller? According to the service techs at Microsoft’s Answer Desk (read the MS Genius Bar…), your guess is as good as mine… or theirs. They don’t have any documentation on it.
2. No one knows why Surface Book Supplies are currently constrained.
They also don’t know when they will get stock; or when the constraint will end. They can’t fulfill warranty replacements when someone brings in a three month old lemon and asks for an exchange, even if you’ve purchased their extended warranty (which I haven’t; but was suggested to me). I find this to be very confusing AND very concerning.
3. Microsoft tried to sell me an extended warranty for a broken unit they couldn’t replace. I’m also not pleased that the original service tech suggested that I lay down an extra $250 for an extended warranty that wouldn’t do me any good until God knows when. That didn’t – and still doesn’t – sit very well with me. It seems like the guy was trying to score points for a warranty sale that would benefit HIM instead of me.

So, at the end of the day, what am I left with?

1. A replaced Surface Book. I appreciate the Manager going the extra mile here and cannibalizing a business order to replace my defective consumer unit, but honestly, this should have been her first, go to answer. I shouldn’t have had to turn to leave and then beg her and the store staff for some other kind of solution to my replacement problem.
2. A bit of customer service concern. Again, I shouldn’t have to beg for something that should have been a very easy fix on Micrsoft’s part. They also shouldn’t have tried to sell me an extended warranty for something that I was in their store trying to have replaced. That was kinda tacky.
3. Confusion about the supply constraint. No one seems to understand why the Surface Book is currently constrained. At best all we’ve got is conjecture and rumor; and potentially upset customers who need replacement units, if needed.
4. Concern about Windows 10’s Restore Process. This isn’t the first time that I’ve had an entire unit break because I tried to use Windows’ Restore PC process. I think there’s enough here to warrant some kind of internal investigation. At this point, I can’t recommend users running Restore at all, especially on a Microsoft Surface device. I haven’t been able to run Restore without the process killing my device.

Microsoft…? Are you listening? I’d really appreciate an off line conversation, here. I’d really appreciate some answers. To be honest, I’m not completely comfortable with the results noted above, and I’d like to hear a response from someone at your office.

What about you, kids..? Has anyone here had issues with Microsoft’s Restore PC process in either Windows 8.x or Windows 10? Has it bricked your device? Have you done it on a Surface Book and then had trouble replacing it due to the supply constraint? Were you able to recover?

I’d love to hear from you on all of this. Why don’t you meet me in the discussion area below and give me your side of the story?

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Surface Book Supplies are Constrained – Part 1

This is not something you want to hear when you’ve got a fatal problem with your Surface Book…

A short while ago, I got a Surface Book. After searching for something to replace my Surface Pro 3, I have, in a sense, come home. During this journey, I have found that the old adage is true; and that you truly do get what you pay for.

So, realizing that a Surface device is really what I wanted, I sold the ASUS Transformer Mini T102HA in late January 2017. About a month later, since there is a Microsoft Store located near the office, I ran over and purchased an entry level Surface Book in mid-February 2017. When I purchased the device, the President’s Day sale was still going on, and the price was $250 cheaper.

On the whole, I’ve been fairly satisfied with the purchase and the model choice. It gets the job done, has all of the Surface features that I’m looking for, and didn’t break the bank.

Yeah… the clouds darken somewhat at this point.

So, I bumped into a problem with my Surface Book and needed to go back to a previous version of Windows. I plugged the Surface Book into its AC adapter and began the Restore Process that I detailed out in a two part columnar series here on Soft32 (Part 1, Part 2). I have done this before, and after you get through the preliminaries in making choices about what you want to keep and what you can live without, it’s really nothing more than letting the machine do its work.

So, I was very surprised after I started the restore and noticed that the device would only boot to its UEFI screen and then wouldn’t go any farther. In the upper right corner of the UEFI screen, you could see an icon that appears to look like a hard drive with some kind of “X” in the middle of it.

As the device was just about three (3) months old, I decided to take a two pronged approach here.

1. Follow the instructions noted on the support page Surface Turns on but Windows won’t Start. This included downloading a recovery image for my Surface Book, and then building and starting my Surface Book with the bootable USB drive that the process created.
2. Make an appointment at the Microsoft Store for service – just in case the above steps didn’t work.

To be very honest, the instructions in step number one, above, haven’t really failed me. Ever… until now.

In one previous case, I had to go to the Microsoft Store and THEY got the recovery image to boot, so when I tried and couldn’t get past the UEFI screen, I thought that they certainly would be able to.

I was wrong.

Even THEY couldn’t get my three month old Surface Book to boot from the USB based recovery image. From what we were able to determine that hard drive icon with the “X” through it indicates a bad drive controller. They declared the device dead in the water, and it qualified for a free replacement, being only 3 months old.

At this point, I was a bit upset, as I was looking at a three month old brick. There was nothing that the Microsoft Store could do to get the device to boot. However, it did qualify for a free replacement, and I thought I would be back up and running shortly.

Unfortunately, they told me, they didn’t have any replacement units available in the store. They also informed me that Microsoft’s Online Store also didn’t have any available. I gave them the whole “deer in the headlights” look. I had a difficult time understanding – there were no Surface Books to be had. From anywhere… I was dumbfounded.

What was worse, the only explanation that I got was that Surface Book supplies were, “constrained.” And that’s all anyone was able to tell me. They had no other information to share.

At this point, my options were few:

1. Leave the store with a non-functional device
This option had me calling the store to determine if they received any stock of the entry level Surface Book that could be set aside as a replacement for my defective unit. They weren’t especially confident that I’d be able to get anything from them any time soon. Again, Surface Book supplies were “constrained” was the only explanation they could give me.
2. Contact Microsoft Complete Advanced Replacement Program
Microsoft Complete provides additional and advanced warranty options for your Microsoft Surface device, should you need them. The service is $249USD and like Apple’s Apple Care, adds an additional 2 years of warranty coverage. They’ll also send you an advanced replacement if you’re a Microsoft Complete customer, should your device need immediate replacement.

There are a couple of problems with these options – because supplies of Surface Book are currently constrained, neither gets me a replacement any time soon. Due to the supply constraint, it’s also not known when a device would become available to replace my defective Surface Book. The Microsoft Complete option would also cost me $1750.00, plus tax ($249 for the privilege of having them charge me – and hold on my credit card, indefinitely – $1500 for a replacement device that they will send to me, again whenever they get one, requiring me to send my defective unit back to them).

After speaking to a manager and not finding any solution, I turned around to leave (effectively choosing option 1…).

I stopped about 5 steps away from the counter and turned back around. There were Surface Books – floor/ demo units – all over the store. Surely they could give me one of those…

NOPE! Those are demo units, and are not part of store inventory. (Awesome…!)

At that point, the manager came back over and I asked her about any other possible avenues. She quietly asked the tech that I was working with if there were any business orders prepped in the back with an appropriate Surface Book unit.

The tech nodded his head, excused himself and went into the back room again. A few moments later, he returned with a replacement unit. The Microsoft Store Manager cannibalized a business order to satisfy a consumer warranty replacement issue.

Shortly after the replacement was finished, I walked back to the office and began setting up my new Surface Book, a happy man.

Come back next time when I wrap everything up and attempt to look into a potential constraint cause, as well.

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Is the Apple HomePod a Non-Starter?

Apple’s got a new Siri powered speaker…

I’ve been chewing on this one for since Apple’s WWDC keynote and I just don’t get it.  Apple’s HomePod is a Siri powered speaker that connects to  your iTunes library and your Apple Music Account.  Specifically, according to Apple:

  • HomePod is a powerful speaker that sounds amazing, adapts to wherever it’s playing, and together with Apple Music, gives you effortless access to one of the world’s largest music catalogs. All controlled through natural voice interaction with Siri.1 It takes the listening experience to a whole new level. And that’s just the beginning.
  • Built to bring out the best in Apple Music, HomePod is a key part of an incredibly deep and intuitive music ecosystem that lives everywhere you do.1 With Siri intelligence and access to virtually all the world’s recordings, it’s like having a musicologist who helps you discover every song you’d ever want to hear.

HomePod does more than play music.  It’s very much like the Amazon Echo. It can help with questions and tasks. It can also connect to HomeKit related devices used to control your connected home’s heating, cooling lighting, locks, etc. It can be the center of your home, just like Google Home or Amazon’s Alexa powered Echo and Dot.

The HomePod may be a superior speaker, providing rich, full sound; but it doesn’t have one thing that made the Amazon Echo and Amazon Dot – The Amazon Store.

The Amazon Echo was originally intended to be a way for users to order or reorder items you normally buy from Amazon.  All you have to do is ask Alexa to order you <something> and a few days later, the item(s) show up at your door.  It’s really that easy.  This was the main purpose of the device – to provide Amazon with an easy revenue stream.  The thought was that with a vocal path to your order history and your Amazon account, vocally ordering something from Amazon, without actually viewing your account, the prices, etc. would make you more likely to order or reorder items. It’s not “real” when you don’t necessarily see how much it costs.

This product ordering backbone provided Amazon with a reason for the product. Everything else that it does – play music, read books, control your home’s compatible products, etc. is a byproduct.  However it’s a byproduct that the Apple HomePod doesn’t have.

The Amazon Echo does everything that the Apple HomePod does and is $179.99.  The HomePod is $349.  You can literally get 2 Echo’s for the price of a single HomePod; and you’ll be able to order all the books (and other Amazon provided goodies) until your credit card maxes out.  However, the Echo’s won’t sync their playback as the HomePods will, providing better overall audio quality during playback.  You also can’t order Apple products and accessories with the HomePods.

I’m not entirely certain I get the reason behind the HomePod. The Echo is easy – It’s a verbal gateway to Amazon’s product catalog.  While Siri is more sophisticated and intelligent on the HomePod, she can’t order you any Apple products and have them delivered.

In short, the HomePod is twice as expensive and does (literally) half as much as the Echo does.  While I’m certain that Apple will sell a great deal of them, I don’t see them hanging around in the long term.  This just doesn’t seem like a core Apple product like the iPhone or the iPad.

Am I missing something here; or is the Apple HomePod a total non-starter?  Will it be successful, or is it just a flash in the pan product that Apple released in order to insure that they weren’t missing out on a market that both Amazon and Google were competing in ?

Someone please tell me… I’m really wanting to know, because I don’t think that I get the HomePod and don’t want to – nor can I afford to – buy one.  I don’t have an Echo or Google Home device and wasn’t planning on purchasing either, even though I order products from Amazon all the time.

This is where I need your help.

Why don’t you meet me in the Discussion area and give me your take on the Echo, the Home and the HomePod.  I don’t do any home automation, so getting one of these would really be nothing more than an audio speaker that could play music and audio books. It could also keep my granddaughter company.  She talks to Siri all the time and has complete conversations with her for hours at a time on her iPad.  At least with the HomePod, and under iOS, Siri is (supposed to be) a lot more intelligent.

Here’s to hoping the HomePod is a lot more than just a very expensive, very sophisticated wireless speaker… but I have my misgivings.

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