“Their operating system is a mess. Thank goodness I remember DOS.” -Dr. Rodney McKay, Stargate: Atlantis

It’s time, Honey!

Yep! The Windows 10 Fall Creators update (1709) is now available and is being pushed out to all Windows 10 installs. Of course, not all at the same time. So, if you want to get this thing done as soon as possible, you’ll have to take matters into your own hands.

This past weekend I updated most of my systems. I could have simply turned on the switch and let Windows 10 do it automatically. However, I like to perform fresh installs, make sure I’ve got archives of some of my configurations, all data is stored safely, and all my machines are connected (currently named after some of the finest star ships in science fiction history).

When considering the recent break-ins and IT compromises, I’d recommend a bare metal install on a regular basis. When you have a clean OS installed on your system and a good copy backed up, you’ve earned the right to have peace of mind.  Here’s what I suggest:

Keep Your User Data on External Data Storage

There are plenty of available options when managing your data. What you use will depend on how much data you have and how often you need to access it. Here are some options to consider.

  1. Cloud Data Storage Service

    Services like Google Drive, Box, Dropbox, and Microsoft OneDrive provide solid alternatives. These services are good if you are mobile and you don’t mind internet speeds or wireless speeds.

  2. Solid State Data Storage

    Either a flash drive or the SD cards will work here. Just make sure you mark them accordingly. Again, great for mobility. Just keep track of them.

  3. External Hard Drive Data Storage

    Lots of ready made options on the market here. Most hard drive manufacturers will encase their hard drive in a white box enclosure, put their name on it and “voila”, instant external storage. All you need to do is connect it to your system with a USB or eSATA link, give it some power and you are off to the races. Or, if you’re feeling ambitious, you can buy your own enclosure, buy your drive off the OEM market (they are typically cheaper than the boxed version or the ones sold in the enclosures) and roll your own local storage box.

    The version I like, however, uses a hard drive dock, like the Kingwin True Dock. Give it some power, connect it to your system with a USB 3.0 cable, and you can swap in drives at will. Use the 3.5-inch drives for archiving data. Use the 2.5-inch drives if you need to carry large amounts of data between sites.

  4. Network Attached Storage (NAS)

    Again, lots of options here to create your own personal storage server on your home network. Using these types of devices will give you large amounts of configurable digital storage that is shareable with the people in your household. For example, the Zyxel NAS540 combines four 4TB drives to give you a max of 16TB of networked storage. Great for creating a library of files, music, pictures, and movies. Not mobile at all.

Backup Important Software Configurations

Once you have all your data offloaded from your data storage device, then it’s time to backup any important configurations. Here, I’m thinking of are your browser configurations, or applications like Filezilla if you do a lot of website maintenance for clients. For backing up your configurations, external storage helps immensely. Options (2), (3), or (4) are excellent ways you can capture those configurations for reloading later. You’ll find this data in the hidden AppData folder under both Local and Roaming folders.

Audit Your System

Lastly, perform an audit of the system you are about to update. I recommend using Belarc advisor. It captures loaded software, shows the software keys, and shows your hardware configuration. This app will give you a list of what you have on your system and shows what you’ll have to reinstall… if you want to reinstall it.

Use the Microsoft Media Creator Tool and Get Windows 10

Once you have offloaded your data, your configurations backed up, and your audit done, then it’s time to update.

Download the Windows media creation tool from Microsoft. Once you have the it downloaded, fire that puppy up. It will run you through some basic questions, the important ones are “do you plan on installing the OS on the current system, do you want to configure the OS for running on machines like the one you are running on (in case you have multiple machines running the same version of windows), and how you want to install it.

You’ll either use a DVD, in which case the software will download an ISO file. Or you’ll use a USB drive to install the software. In this case, you’ll need to have a flash drive at least 4 GB large plugged into your system. Then, depending on the bandwidth of your connection, the media creator will spend 10 to 20 minutes downloading the installation files.

Install the Windows 10 Update

So, you’ve got everything backed up. You can easily recreate your environment. Now it’s time to get it on.

Boot your system from the DVD or the USB flash drive, perform the advanced install and delete all current partitions. This is the point where you can get biblical and start “in the beginning”, so to speak.

You can create one large partition over the whole drive, or you can partition up the drive to contain certain types of information. For example, you can create a partition to house temporary user data until you get a chance to offload it to a more permanent structure. Or, perhaps a separate partition to hold your installed programs. The main reason you would want to do this would be to meet your own organizational requirements. But keep this in mind: you’ll have less trouble and time defragging a 100GB boot partition as opposed to an entire 500GB drive.

There’s an entire post on running the update from the media creation tool here at howtogeek.com. The author posted this back in Jan 2016, just after Windows 10 first launched. But much of what he outlined is still pertinent and will get you over any hurdles.

Reload Your Apps

At this point, you simply have to reload your applications. This is a good time to re-evaluate if you really need all those software applications. You know the ones – that music app you loaded two years ago that looked good but now you rarely use. Or that game that looked *killer* on the advertisement but you lost interest in it after two plays.

In one of his taped programs, I remember Brian Tracy conducting a mental exercise  for business professionals seeking more organization. He asked,

“If you could physically walk away from your current business and start something new, what would you carry with you and what would you leave behind?”

You can apply the same principle to your Windows system. You’ve just installed a fresh copy of Windows 10 on your system – the latest update. What do you want to carry over and what do you want to leave behind? You have the list of applications on your Belarc advisor audit. Cross off the ones you don’t want and load up the apps you need.

Create an Image  of Your System

Now that you have your system created the way you want it, do a backup. Go grab a copy of Clonezilla Live, burn it on a DVD or a USB flash drive, and then boot your system from it. To make a backup image of your new system, you’ll need an external drive. I use the Kingwin True Dock docking station to power a SATA hard drive large enough to hold the system image.

Now, if something infects your system, you can simply erase the hard drive, reload the known good image, and you’re back in action.

Organization is the Final Word

In IT, we talk a lot about the exotic tech and all of the amazing capabilities we can do with it. But there’s a level of IT that we can all be a part of that involves consistency and organization. So, use this latest Windows 10 update to:

  1. separate your data from your system;
  2. audit your system;
  3. create a working OS image of your system for fast recovery.

Remember, there are plenty of bad actors out there looking to compromise your laptops and desktops for their own nefarious purposes. Organize your systems, and you’ll create a safe and stable data platform for both work and recreation.

Resources

  • Microsoft Media Creation Tool. This tool will download the latest system files for Windows 10 installation. Follow the directions to get the correct version for your systems
  • Belarc Advisor Audit Tool. Belarc Offers a variety of solutions in the security, license, and configuration management space. Most of you will be individual users trying to secure a single machine or two. If you are trying to provision and manage multiple machines, check out their other solutions. For the consultant or small business owner getting control of their system, the free Belarc Advisor will be sufficient.
  • Clonezilla Disk Imaging Tool. Clonezilla is a disk cloning and imaging tool that’s been around for a while. There are other tools out there that use a graphical interface. But I like this one because a) it’s free, b) it’s flexible, and c) it’s based on Linux.  At a future date, I’ll take a peek at some of the other imaging tools out there. But for now, this one works and it works well.
USB Flash Storage Micro SD Card Storage Kingwin True Dock Zyxel NAS540