Flight Simulator 2020: First Impressions

I've been a fan of Microsoft Flight Simulator (MSFS) since it was first introduced. (Or even earlier if you count SubLogic Flight Simulator that preceded it.) I have owned every version of MSFS, and I usually rushed out to buy each version when it hit the stores.


I would have to say, though, that my favorite version had been Flight Simulator X (FSX), which was released in 2006 - the levels of detail and realism were amazing. Unfortunately, FSX was the final version of MSFS. Microsoft chose to unceremoniously kill off MSFS in 2009, and like every other MSFS fanboy, I was quite upset to see it fade into the sunset. There were a few failed attempts to breathe life into the franchise via Microsoft's Flight and Steam's rerelease of Flight Simulator for their gaming platform, but each offering fell far short of the goal.


Needless to say, I was thrilled when I heard the news that Microsoft was reviving the series with Flight Simulator 2020, which promised unbelievable video quality and unparalleled realism. As I had done with every previous version of MSFS, I bought FS2020 on the day of its release and installed it immediately. As soon as the installation was done, I launched the application to see - nothing. MSFS displayed a message to inform me that my GeForce 9800 GTX video card was not powerful enough to run FS2020.

This was disappointing, to say the least, but I wasn't too worried - because I had already purchased an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 video adapter for my computer. However, I had too many tasks competing for my limited time, so I had to delay the installation of my new video card. That being said - today was the day! I powered down my system, swapped out the old video card for the new card, and rebooted. As soon as the operating system was up and running, I launched FS2020 and was excited to see - nothing. Well, not exactly nothing; what I saw were two error messages:

Connection Lost - Please ensure you have an active internet
connection, and check the forums for additional information.


Access to the content servers is currently unavailable. Please
ensure you have an active internet connection, and try again later.
Please visit https://flightsimulator.zendesk.com/ for additional information.

Unfortunately, those error messages sent me into an endless loop that always resulted in my seeing these same messages again and again; and since there was no other way to exit the application, I had to hard kill FS2020 using the Windows Task Manager. I followed the advice from the error messages and I checked the forums, where I found the following two threads that described my exact situation:

I tried everything that was suggested in both of those threads (as well as suggestions from several other forum threads and blog posts), but so far - no luck. I still have yet to see anything from MSFS2020, but I'll keep looking.


With that in mind, here are my first impressions of Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020:

  • Game Experience = I have no idea. I have yet to see the actual game.
  • Installation Experience = terrible. The minimum requirements are excessive, and when an end user can't get a game to run as soon as they're done installing it, that's a catastrophic failure for which the game designer is solely responsible.
  • Troubleshooting Experience = terrible. End users are pretty much on their own when something fails. Microsoft's single troubleshooting recommendation is for users to check the forums, which is way below par for a major software product from a major software company.

On a related side note, I installed MSFS2020 using the Microsoft Store application for Windows 10. That app is relatively easy to use, but it could be a lot better in my opinion; I often find myself highly annoyed at how difficult it is to find apps that I know have been released and install them.

Recovering a Mirror Set on Windows 10

I run a mirror on the C drive for one of my Windows 10 systems, and a few nights ago that system wouldn't boot; I kept getting errors like "VOLMGRX internal error" and "A recently serviced boot binary is corrupt". I tried a few of the automatic Windows 10 recovery options while my system was rebooting, but nothing seemed to work. Skipping past the steps it took to get there, I also tried using the "bootrec /fixmbr" and "bootrec /fixboot" commands, with no luck, either.

However, since I was using a mirror set for the primary drive, I was able to do the following:

When I rebooted my system, I chose Troubleshoot for my startup option.


Step 2 - On the Troubleshoot screen, I chose Advanced options.


On the Advanced options screen, I chose Command prompt.


When the Command prompt opened, I typed the following commands:

list volume

This returned a table like the following illustration, and I looked for the volume which showed status as "Failed Rd":

Volume ### Ltr Label Fs Type Size Status Info
---------- --- ----------- ----- ---------- ------- --------- --------
Volume 0 C C-DRIVE NTFS Partition 1848 GB Failed Rd Boot
Volume 1 ESP FAT32 Partition 500 MB Healthy System  
Volume 2 WINRETOOLS NTFS Partition 454 MB Healthy Hidden  
Volume 3 Image NTFS Partition 12 GB Healthy Hidden  
Volume 4 DELLSUPPORT NTFS Partition 1087 MB Healthy Hidden  

Once I knew the volume that was having the issue, I was able to run the following commands to recover the mirror set:

select volume 0

I knew that the recovery was going to take a long to complete, and I could have used "detail volume" command every few minutes to check the status, (which will show "Rebuild" in the status column). But the truth is - it was already way past midnight, so I simply went to sleep for the night. When I got up the following morning, everything was fine and I was able to reboot successfully.

FYI - The following article has all the information you need about using the Windows DiskPart command, although be forewarned - you can really screw up your system if you do something wrong.

DiskPart Command-Line Options

Correlation versus Causation

I just saw this t-shirt and I absolutely love it...


I cannot count the number of times that I have had to explain this simple concept to people who think that something coincidental was the driving force behind a problem which has developed with the technology that they use in their daily lives. For example, imagine the following statement: "I just closed the door and my television no longer works." Those two events obviously sound like completely unrelated events, and yet I have had to answer questions from dozens of people who honestly believe that one inapplicable event like this caused the other unconnected failure.

Oh sure, there are concepts like the Butterfly Effect to consider, but by and large those do not apply in your average, day-to-day situation. More often than not, the cause for most of the technology problems which I help people troubleshoot have nothing to do with what they believe to be the cause. (And believe me - I have heard some amazing theories from various people about the sources of their technological maladies.) My favorite story along these lines is the apocryphal My Car Does Not Like Vanilla Ice Cream story, which I honestly wish was true.

Nevertheless, as a piece of unsolicited advice - when something has gone wrong, it is often best to analyze the failure for what it is instead of trying to analyze what you believe is the origin of your problems.


For more on this subject, see Post hoc ergo propter hoc.

Still More Examples of Bad Technical Support

Here is another entry in my on-going list of examples for both good and bad technical support experiences. For this situation, I will show an example of bad technical support as provided by the Microsoft Outlook Support Team.

Here is the scenario: about two months ago one of my Hotmail accounts stopped working with Windows Live Mail. When I attempted to sync that particular email account, I received an error message that was similar to the following example:

Bear in mind, however, that I made no changes to my Windows Live Mail settings, and I have several other Hotmail accounts which are working perfectly with the same settings on the same computer.

So I started a support issue with the the Microsoft Outlook Support Team, and over the next several weeks I went back and forth with several people on that team who were clearly uninterested in working on this issue. (In fact, at one point they simply closed the case without notifying me!) As of today the issue is still not resolved, and I have not heard from anyone at Microsoft within the past month.

As I said before, this is an example of really bad technical support.

With that in mind, listed below is the full thread from my support case in order of the events. Note that I have substituted the following variables where necessary to hide my actual account name, email address, and support number:

  • %ACCOUNT_NAME% is my Hotmail account name
  • %EMAIL_ACCOUNT% is my email address for my Hotmail account
  • %TICKET_NUMBER% is my ticket number for my Microsoft support case (e.g. SRX12345678ID)

So without further narrative, here are all of the notes from the support case.

04/18/2015 15:14

Service: General Issue

What type of problem do you have?

  • Selected Product
    • Outlook
  • Selected Issue
    • Your account has been temporarily blocked

Enter a short description of your issue: Cannot Sync Email from Windows Live Mail

Enter the email address (Microsoft account) affected by this issue: %EMAIL_ACCOUNT%

Enter your contact email address: %EMAIL_ACCOUNT%

Enter a detailed description of your issue:

I was able to sync my %EMAIL_ACCOUNT% account in Windows Live Mail until a week or so ago, and now I receive the following error message:

Unable to send or receive messages for the Hotmail (%ACCOUNT_NAME%) account.
Server Error: 3219
Server: 'https://mail.services.live.com/DeltaSync_v2.0.0/Sync.aspx'
Windows Live Mail Error ID: 0x8DE00005

For reasons that are completely unrelated to this issue, I completely reinstalled Windows 7 Ultimate on this computer, and yet after reinstalling Windows and Windows Live Mail on this computer I still see the same error. In addition, I have a couple of other Hotmail accounts that I use with Windows Live Mail on the same computer and they work without any errors.

With that in mind, the problem should not be caused by any settings on my computer. However, I did not make any changes to my account settings at Hotmail before I started seeing this problem.

There is one thing that I have noticed, though - when I log into the Hotmail.com website, when I use one of my other Hotmail accounts the title bar says Outlook.com, whereas the title bar for my %EMAIL_ACCOUNT% account says Outlook Mail (Preview).

04/18/2015 15:18

From: Microsoft Support

We are writing to let you know that we have received your request for support and will reply within 24 hours.

If you don't see a message from us within 24 hours, check to see if email from @css.one.microsoft.com is in your junk mail folder. You can check the status of your request on the Microsoft Support site.


Thank you,
The Microsoft Support team

04/19/2015 22:51

From: Escalation Agent


Thank you for contacting Outlook.com support.

My name is Therese and I'm glad you have reached us today. I have read your description and I understand that you are getting an error message when syncing your account at Windows Live Mail. Let me see what I can do for you.

To start off, we appreciate your efforts in isolating the case by uninstalling and reinstalling your Operating System and Windows Live Mail on your computer. You also mentioned that other Microsoft accounts are working fine on Windows Live Mail which tells us that this is not an issue with the mail client but can be an account-related issue.

With that, I would like you to know that I have escalated this case to our Support Specialist for further evaluation. We will get back to you as soon as we have a resolution or if we need more information.

Your patience is highly appreciated.


04/21/2015 11:12


Has there been any progress on this issue?

FWIW - I have included a screen shot of the error message in Windows Live Mail.


04/21/2015 13:17

From: Escalation Agent


Good to hear from you again. This is John from Outlook.com support.

We appreciate the screenshot that you have provided us. I have checked your service request and found out that your issue is still being handled by our Support specialists and the investigation is still ongoing. Once we got any developments or if there is anything that our Support specialist would need from you, we'll inform you right away.

Thank you for your cooperation and patience on this matter.


PS: Please do not delete the first email notification from us. If you did not receive another notification in 24 hours, please check the link on the first email notification to see the case progress.

04/25/2015 12:33

Subject: %TICKET_NUMBER% (Reopen)

It has been a week since I first opened this support case, and from what I could tell - nothing was ever done. So imagine my surprise when I logged in today and I discovered that this support case had been closed without a single notification from Microsoft. This is terrible customer service, and I AM A VERY DISSATISFIED CUSTOMER!!!

At this point I expect three things:

1. I demand that this issue be escalated to someone who can actually work on the issue and resolve it; I no longer want to suffer through working with incompetent 1st-tier support people.

2. I expect to hear from someone within the next 24 hours with an actual update on this issue; I do not want to hear another blasé response which says "the investigation is still ongoing," because it very clearly was not being investigated.

3. I expect to hear from a manager within the next 48 hours as to why this issue was never worked, never resolved, and closed without contacting me.

If I do not hear from anyone within the times that I have put forth, I will escalate this issue through appropriate channels on my own, which will reflect even more poorly on those who have been doing a terrible job thus far.

04/25/2015 16:52

From: Escalation Agent


Thank you for your response and for sharing your feelings with us. I'm Froilan, at your service.

We apologize for taking your valuable time in trying to resolve your issue with the error message when syncing your account in Windows Live mail. I fully understand how you feel about the inconvenience this has brought you. Please be informed that I will get back to our Support Specialist to get update about the status of your case. We understand the urgency of this issue; however, we cannot provide you with the time when a reply will be available. Rest assured that this post is being tracked and we will inform you immediately once we get any updates from them.

We appreciate your continued patience in going through this issue.


Please save and keep the first email notification you received after submitting this request. That notification contains the link for this service request. If you did not receive another notification in 24 hours after your reply, you can check the status of this case and view our response by clicking the link on the first notification.

Best regards.

05/01/2015 09:54

From: Escalation Agent


How is it going? We received an update coming from our Escalations Engineer and based from what we've observed, it seems the issue is encountered when the server settings for IMAP is not selected.

What you need to do is to make sure that you've selected and followed the Manual Server Settings for IMAP. This should allow the syncing of your accounts.

For more information about this setting, please refer to the IMAP setting that can be found in the link below.


Kindly share us the outcome afterwards.

Microsoft Support Team

05/03/2015 22:22


This simply does not make sense; I have several other Hotmail accounts which I simply add them to Windows Live Mail and they automatically work. In the Properties dialog for each of my other accounts, the Server Information tab lists "My mail server is an HTTP server" with the following URL:


These are the EXACT same settings as the %EMAIL_ACCOUNT% email account. So why would this one account require custom IMAP settings?

Also, this account was working fine until a few weeks ago when I started seeing the errors. I made no changes to my settings, so it would seem that Microsoft has changed something about this specific Hotmail account. As I pointed out before, the web page banner when I am using this account reads "Outlook Mail (Preview)", which leads me to believe that this account was only partially migrated to the new Outlook Mail servers. With that in mind, I would theorize that the problem is due to a failed attempt on Microsoft's behalf when trying migrate my account from the old Hotmail.com servers to the new Outlook.com servers.

05/03/2015 22:23


By the way, while I sincerely appreciate the assistance of the escalation engineer, I still have not heard back from a manager with an answer as to why my support case was closed by the initial support engineer after no work was completed and no attempts were made to contact me.

05/03/2015 23:56

From: Escalation Agent


Thank you for providing us additional details. I'm Hyver from Outlook.com Support and I have reviewed the exchange of responses that you had with my colleagues. I'm truly sorry if the issue still persists after a week of communicating with us. I understand the displeasure that you've expressed for the support that you experienced. We're still here to help you on your issue.

I really apologize for the inconvenience that you've faced. I know you're expecting an email from a manager explaining why the support ticket was closed without someone trying to attempt to contact you. I'd like to let you k now that we are actively monitoring cases that are being reviewed by the Escalations Team and we do not close cases with open escalations. So we would like to ask for a copy of the email notification that indicates that the case was closed. I will include this to my reports as this could be an honest mistake or a system glitch,

I totally recognize that you deserve a valid explanation about what happened and we are not letting our customers to be upset at any point of our investigation. We don't like to see our customers upset and inconvenienced and we always strive to create a positive customer experience. With that being said, this should be reviewed again by our Escalations Team and should be taken care with utmost urgency. Please do not lost faith in us as we are doing our best to resolve this issue the soonest possible time.

As we speak, this support request is in our Escalations Team queue and should be treated with immediate attention. We appreciate your cooperation and understanding.

Should you have other questions or clarifications, please do not hesitate to contact us back.


05/05/2015 18:04


Hello Hyver,

There was never an email when the case was closed, which was part of my complaint. If you look at the case notes, you will see that I had to reopen the case on 04/25/2105 when I discovered that the case had been closed when I logged into this support website to check on the status.

05/05/2015 19:47

From: Escalation Agent


Thank you for letting us know that there was no email with regard to this case that was closed. We will report this to our higher support team and we'll get back to you immediately once we have the latest update from them.

Again, your patience and understanding are much appreciated.

Kindest regards,

05/12/2015 22:46


Another week has passed by, and yet I still have not heard anything, which leads me to believe that no one at Microsoft is actually doing nothing with this case. From my perspective, it seems that the "Escalation Agents" with whom I am working are simply stalling for time and hoping that either the problem will go away or I will quit trying and give up.

With that in mind, I will keep everyone up-to-date: the problem is still there - which should be expected since no one at Microsoft appears to be doing anything to fix the problem.

So let me recap the past week or so: I have heard nothing from Microsoft since the last time that I requested an update, my issue is not resolved, and I never heard from a manager at Microsoft with an explanation as to why the front-line engineers closed the case without contacting me or to discuss a plan of action to resolve this issue.

All of this reflects very poorly on the support engineers with whom I am working. As such, I want to work with someone else. Someone who knows what they're doing. Someone who can actually resolve an issue.

05/13/2015 03:37

From: Escalation Agent

Note: To check the status of your request, kindly refrain from deleting our email notification. If you haven't received another notification in 24 hours, you can view the agent's response on URL link provided on the notification email.


This is Audrey and we apologizer if this case has been going on for so long without any results. Upon checking your concern is still under investigation by our support specialist. We will be making a follow up regarding this and once we have received a word from them it will be immediately relayed to you.

Rest assured that we are exhausting our resources to resolve this matter as soon as possible.

Thank you,
Outlook.com Support Team

05/19/2015 13:36

From: Escalation Agent


Sorry for the wait. We received an update coming from our Escalations Team and there's a possibility that your account's server settings were changed. With this, configuring your account to Windows Live Mail using this server "Windows Live Hotmail" will not work.

We are still working on your issue but what you can do is to use IMAP as your server type if you want to sync your emails.

Thank you for consideration and cooperation.

Microsoft Support Team

05/29/2015 13:19


I do not wish to use IMAP; I have used that before and it has presented me with a separate series of issues. I will continue to wait for you to fix the problem with the server settings.

To be honest, at this point I have little faith that the Microsoft Outlook Support Team will do anything to resolve this issue. It is abundantly clear to me that the support team is ignoring my support case and simply waiting for me to close it, which I refuse to do since my problem is not resolved.

So once again I reiterate the obvious - this is a perfect example of truly awful technical support, and it demonstrates why many people eventually give up on Hotmail and switch to Gmail.

More Examples of Bad Technical Support

A few years ago I wrote my Why I Won't Buy Another HP Computer blog, wherein I detailed several terrible support experiences that I had to endure with Hewlett Packard's technical support people. In order to show that not everyone has terrible technical support people, I recently wrote my Why I Will Buy Another Dell Computer blog, where I described a great experience that I had with Dell's technical support people. That being said, not everyone can be a good as Dell, so in this blog I will illustrate another bad support example - this time it's from Microsoft's Technical Support.

Here's the situation: I recently purchased a Dell 8700 computer, which came with Windows 8.1 installed. Since I run a full Windows domain on my home network, I would rather run the professional version of Windows 8.1 on my computers, so I purchased a Windows 8.1 Pro Pack from Microsoft in order to upgrade my system. The upgrade process is supposed to be painless; Microsoft sends you a little box with a product key that you use to perform the upgrade.

Well, at least that's the way that it should have worked, but I kept getting an error message when I tried to use the key. So after a few attempts I decided that it was time to contact Microsoft's Technical support to resolve the issue. I figured that it was probably some minor problem with the key, and it would be an easy issue to resolve. With that in mind, I browsed to http://support.microsoft.com and started a support chat session, which I have included in its entirety below:

Answer Desk online chat
Vince P: 5:12:37 PM Hi, thanks for visiting Answer Desk. I'm Vince P.
Welcome to Answer Desk, how may I help you?
You: 5:13:09 PM I just purchased a Windows 8.1 Pro Pack Product key from Microsoft for my Dell 8700 computer, but I get an error message that the key does not work.
Here is the key: nnnnn-nnnnn-nnnnn-nnnnn-nnnn
Vince P: 5:13:43 PM I'll be happy to sort this out for you.
For documentation purposes, may I please have your phone number?
You: 5:14:02 PM nnn-nnn-nnnn
Vince P: 5:14:38 PM Thank you, give me a moment please.
As I understand, you cannot install Windows Media Center using the key that you have, is that correct?
You: 5:17:53 PM Yes, I am trying to upgrade from Windows 8.1 to Windows 8.1 Pro with Media Center
Vince P: 5:18:12 PM First, allow me to set expectations that Answer Desk is a paid support service. We have a couple of paid premium support options should your issue prove complex and require advanced resources. Before we discuss those further, I need to ask some questions to determine if your problem can be handled by our paid support or if it's something really easy that we can fix at no charge today.
I will remotely access your computer to check the root cause of this issue.
[Note: Vince sends me a URL and code to initialize a remote session to my computer using a 3rd-party application.]
You: 5:19:40 PM Why is a remote session necessary?
Vince P: 5:21:19 PM Yes, I need to check the root cause of this issue.
Or I can send you some helpful links if you want.
You: 5:21:52 PM Or you can ask me to check anything for you
What do you need to check?
Vince P: 5:22:38 PM http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows-8/feature-packs
If this link doesn't work, there might be some third party application that are blocking the upgrade.
It is much faster if I remotely access your computer, if it's okay with you.
You: 5:24:34 PM I have gone through the steps in that article, they did not work, which is why I contacted support
Vince P: 5:25:06 PM I need to remotely access your computer.
You: 5:25:11 PM The exact error message is "This key won't work. Check it and try again, or try a different key."
Vince P: 5:25:16 PM Please click on the link and enter the code.
You: 5:25:46 PM Or - you can tell me what I need to check for you and I will give you the answers you need.
Vince P: 5:26:51 PM http://answers.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/forum/windows_8-pictures/upgrade-to-windows-8-media-center/6060f338-900f-437f-a981-c2ae36ec0fd8?page=~pagenum~
I'm sorry, but I have not received a response from you in the last few minutes. If you're busy or pre-occupied, we can continue this chat session when you have more time. If I do not hear from you in the next minute, I will disconnect this session.
It was a real pleasure working with you today. For now, thank you for contacting Microsoft Answer Desk. Again, my name is Vince and you do have a wonderful day.
Your Answer Tech has ended your chat session. Thanks for visiting Answer Desk.

Unbeknownst to "Vince", I worked in Microsoft Technical Support for ten years, so I know the way that the system is supposed to work and how Microsoft's support engineers are supposed to behave. Vince was condescending and extremely uncooperative - he simply wanted to log into my machine, but no one gets to log into my computers except me. I know my way around my computer well enough to answer any questions that Vince might have had, but Vince didn't even try. What's more, when Vince sent me a long support thread to read, he took that as his opportunity to simply end the chat session a few moments later. Very bad behavior, dude.

Unfortunately, Microsoft's chat application crashed after the session had ended, so I wasn't able to provide negative feedback about my support experience, so this blog will have to suffice. If I had a way to contact Vince's boss, I would have no problem pointing out that Vince desperately needs remedial training in basic technical support behavior, and he shouldn't be allowed to work with customers until he's shown that he can talk a customer through a support scenario without a remote session. If he can't do that, then he shouldn't be in technical support.

By the way - just in case someone else runs into this issue - all that I had to do in order to resolve the issue was reboot my computer. Seriously. Despite the error message, apparently Windows had actually accepted the upgrade key, so when I rebooted the computer it upgraded my system to Windows 8.1 Professional. (Go figure.)

SkyDrive is an Abysmal Failure in Windows 8.1

OK - I have to admit, I have used SkyDrive for several years now, and I have learned to become dependent on it because I like having several of my files easily accessible everywhere I go and on every device.

Apparently that was a big mistake on my part, because the SkyDrive team at Microsoft has slowly made SkyDrive a piece of crap. Having just set up my laptop with a brand-new installation of Windows 8.1 (which I installed from scratch), I can honestly say that SkyDrive in Windows 8.1 is now a complete failure as far as I am concerned. So unfortunately I'm probably going to have to switch to a third-party cloud storage application - and that sucks.

Before I discuss what's screwed up with SkyDrive in Windows 8.1, I should first mention that Microsoft used to make Windows Live Mesh, which was much better than SkyDrive. Mesh allowed you to choose any folder on your system and synchronize it across any machine that you specified. (In contrast, SkyDrive only synchronizes folders which are directly beneath the parent SkyDrive folder.) What's more, Mesh had a built-in remote desktop feature that was much like the built-in Windows Remote Desktop functionality - except that it actually worked. (If you've ever tried to manage a firewall and get the built-in Windows Remote Desktop functionality working over the Internet through your firewall and across a NAT, you know what I mean.) Unfortunately Microsoft's long-standing policy appears to be the following: if Microsoft has two competing technologies, choose the lesser of the two and ship that, and then deprecate the better technology. (At least that's what happened with SkyDrive and Mesh.)

Anyway - here are just a few of things things that are screwed up about SkyDrive in Windows 8.1:

In Windows 7, you had to manually choose to install the SkyDrive desktop functionality, so this was an opt-in feature. Of course, I installed SkyDrive, and I used it often. Unlike Windows Live Mesh, you had to drop files in the SkyDrive folder, which was really inconvenient. But that's also the way that DropBox works, so I'm sure that's what the engineers who were designing SkyDrive were trying to emulate.

In any event, after I installed SkyDrive on several of my systems, all of my SkyDrive-based files were physically stored on each of my local systems, and they were adequately synchronized across all machines where I installed SkyDrive. If I wanted to temporarily disable SkyDrive on any system, I could right-click on the SkyDrive System Tray icon and choose to close it.

However, once I installed Windows 8.1, everything changed. First of all SkyDrive is not optional - it's just there, and it appears to be always on. What's worse, my files weren't actually on my laptop anymore; they looked like they were locally stored, but they were more like ghost files which would actually download from the Internet whenever I tried to access a file. This was a pain in the butt for the system utilities which I was storing in my SkyDrive - most of them ceased to function because the EXE would download, but none of the supplemental DLL files would. As a direct result, all of my system utilities failed to run.

After some poking around I discovered that I could right-click on the SkyDrive folder and choose to make it available offline, which worked - albeit with hours of waiting for 25GB of files to download over Wi-Fi. But I need to point out that I had to go out of my way to make SkyDrive work the way that it used to; and more importantly, I had to discover on my own how to make something work the way that it always did in the past. This is known as a "Breaking Change," although I prefer to call that "Bad Design."

But today is when everything went from bad to worse. I needed to go to an appointment, so I brought my laptop with me because I thought that I would be able to do some work while I waited for my scheduled appointment time. I had a folder in my SkyDrive with some work-related files in it, so this seemed like something that should just work.

But it didn't work. In fact, it failed miserably.

What happened is this: I arrived at my appointment and booted my laptop, but when I opened my SkyDrive folder, everything was missing. Needless to say, I was more than a little alarmed. I opened Windows Explorer and navigated to the folder for my user profile, where I saw two folders that were both named "SkyDrive." Since Windows does not allow two folders with the same name in the same directory, I knew that this was a display anomaly which was probably caused by identical desktop.ini files in the two SkyDrive directories. I opened a command prompt and changed directories to my user profile folder, and the directory listing showed two folders: "SkyDrive" and SkyDrive (2)".

So I was correct in my assumption, and I verbally expressed my exasperation on the idiocy of this situation. ("What the heck...? Those stupid sons-of-biscuits...") I could immediately tell that Windows 8.1 had screwed something up, and my life was going to suck until I sorted it out.

I will spare you the details for everything that I tried to do, but it involved a lot of copying & renaming of files & folders - and after several hours of troubleshooting I still didn't have it resolved. But just to make things worse, while I was doing my troubleshooting I discovered that I suddenly had three folders under my user profile: "SkyDrive" and SkyDrive (2)," and "SkyDrive.old". I searched the Internet, and I found out that a lot of users have seen this problem.

A... lot... of... users...

There seemed to be two common consensuses: 1) this was clearly a bug in SkyDrive on Windows 8.1, and 2) SkyDrive now sucks for this reason.

One thing became clear to me: SkyDrive was going to continue to make my life miserable until I got it out of the way long enough for me to fix things. If you do some searching on the Internet, you can find ways to disable SkyDrive through Windows group policy, but I didn't want it permanently disabled - I just wanted it out of the way long enough to sort out the problem with multiple folders. Incidentally, logging out as my user account and logging in as the local administrator account did not make this easier since SkyDrive.exe runs at the system level.

Eventually I had to resort to backing up all of my multiple SkyDrive folders to an alternate location, and then running the following batch file while I manually cleaned up the multiple folders:

@echo off
for %%a in (explorer.exe skydrive.exe) do (
   wmic process where name='%%a' call terminate
goto :here

Note that I had to put these process termination statements in a loop because Windows would keep restarting both executables, thereby thwarting any repairs that I had managed to start.

Yes, this is a lame and prosaic approach to solving this problem, but releasing a major breaking change to a service upon which you hope everyone will depend is pretty darn lame, too. And making the new service so heinously awful that it's barely usable is unforgivably lame.

Eventually I got everything sorted out, and I would love to be able to write something definitive like, "You need to do X and Y and your system will be better." But truth-be-told, I spent so many hours trying so many things that I cannot be certain which specific steps resolved the issue. And I'm not about to attempt setting up a repro environment to test which steps to take. Sorry about that - but I simply don't want to mess with things now that I have SkyDrive working again.

Upgrading a Baby Computer

I'd like to take a brief departure from my normal series of IIS-related blogs and talk about something very near and dear to the hearts of many geeks - ripping a computer apart and upgrading its various hardware components just because it's fun. ;-)

Several years ago I bought a Dell Inspiron Mini 1011 Laptop, which is a smallish netbook computer with a 10-inch screen. (Actually, I bought this as an alternate laptop for my wife to use when travelling, since she doesn't like to travel with her full-sized laptop.)  This computer eventually became a "coffee-table laptop" for our house, which houseguests use when they come to visit. Since the netbook computer is so small, our family has affectionately labeled it the "Baby Computer."

Recently my wife and I took a trip to Hawaii, for which I decided to leave my full-size laptop at home, and I brought the Baby Computer instead.  Since I had never needed to rely on the Baby Computer to do anything more than surf the web in the past, I hadn't realized how quickly it was starved for resources whenever I tried to edit photos or write code. (Yes - I actually write code while on vacation... writing code makes me happy.) The Baby Computer shipped with an underwhelming 1GB of RAM, which filled up quickly if I tried to do too many things at once, and it came with a 120GB 5400rpm hard drive. There's nothing that I could do about CPU speed, but as I slogged through the rest of my vacation using the Baby Computer, I resolved to research if the other hardware in this laptop could be expanded.

Figure 1 - Performance Before Upgrading

Once we got home from vacation I did some checking, and I discovered that I could expand the Baby Computer's RAM to 2GB, which isn't much, but it obviously doubled what I had been using, and I decided replace it's original hard drive with a 128GB solid-state drive (SSD). With that in mind, I thought that it would be a worthwhile endeavor to document the upgrade process for someone else who wants to do the same thing with their Dell Inspiron Mini 1011. (Of course, you are undoubtedly voiding your Dell warranty the moment that you open your laptop's case.)

First things first - Dell's support website has some great information about tearing apart your laptop; Dell provides a detailed online Service Manual with all of the requisite instructions for replacing most of the parts in the Dell Mini, and I used it as a guide while I performed my upgrades. That being said, the upgrade process was still a little tricky, and some of the parts were difficult to get to. (Although it seems like Dell may have made upgrades a little easier in later models of my laptop.)

So without further introduction, here are the steps for upgrading the RAM and hard drive in a Dell Inspiron Mini 1011 Laptop.

Step 1 - Remove the Screws from the Back of the Case

This step is pretty easy - there are only a handful of screws to remove.

Figure 2 - Removing the Screws

Step 2 - Remove the Keyboard

It's pretty easy to pop the keyboard out of the case...

Figure 3 - Removing the Keyboard

...although once you have the keyboard loose, you need to flip it over carefully and remove the flat ribbon cable from underneath.

Figure 4 - Detaching the Keyboard Cable

Step 3 - Remove the Palm Rest

This step was a little tricky, and it took me a while to accomplish this task because I had to wedge a thin screwdriver in between the case and the palm rest in order to pry it off. Note that there is a flat ribbon cable that attaches the palm rest to the motherboard that you will need to remove.

Figure 5 - Removing the Palm Rest

With the keyboard and palm rest out of the way, you can remove the hard drive - there's a single screw holding the hard drive mount into the case and four screws that hold the hard drive in its mount.

Figure 6 - Removing the Hard Drive

If you were only replacing the hard drive, you could stop here. Since I was upgrading the RAM, I needed to dig deeper.

Step 4 - Remove the Palm Rest Bracket and Motherboard

Once the hard drive is out of the way, you need to remove the motherboard so you can replace the RAM that is located underneath it. There are a handful of screws above and below the computer that hold the palm rest bracket to the case...

Figure 7 - After Removing the Palm Rest Bracket

...once you remove remove the palm rest bracket, you can flip over the motherboard and replace the RAM.

Figure 8 - Replacing the RAM

Optional Step - Cloning the Hard Drive

Rather than reinstalling the operating system from scratch, I cloned Windows from the original hard drive to the SSD. To do this, I placed both the old hard drive and the new SSD into USB-based SATA drive cradles and I used Symantec Ghost to clone the operating system from drive to drive.

Figure 9 - Both Hard Drives in SATA Cradles
Figure 10 - Cloning the Hard Drive with Ghost

Once the clone was completed, all that was left was to install the new SSD and reassemble the computer.

Figure 11 - Installing the New SSD


Once I had everything completed and reassembled, Windows booted considerably faster when using the SSD; it now boots in a matter of seconds. (I wish that I had timed the boot sequence before and after the upgrades, but I didn't think of that earlier... darn.) Running the Windows 7 performance assessment showed a measurable increase in hard drive speed, with little to no increase in RAM speed. Of course, since there was no speed increase for CPU or graphics, the overall performance score for my laptop remained the same. That being said, with twice the RAM as before, it should be paging to disk less often, so regular usage should seem a little faster; even when it does need to swap memory to disk it will be faster using the SSD than with its old hard drive.

Figure 12 - Performance After Upgrading

That's all for now - have fun. ;-)

Note: This blog was originally posted at http://blogs.msdn.com/robert_mcmurray/

Troubleshooting Custom FTP Providers with ETW

I recently received a question from a customer about troubleshooting custom FTP providers, and I recommended using the FTP service's Event Tracing for Windows (ETW) features in order to help troubleshoot the problem. I've helped a lot of customers use this little-known feature of the FTP service, so I thought that it would make a great subject for a quick blog.

By way of explanation, the FTP service in IIS 7.5 and IIS 8.0 allows developers to write their own custom functionality, and over the past several years I have written several walkthroughs and blogs that illustrate how you can create your own custom FTP providers:

That being said, sometimes things go wrong, and when that happens, I use some FTP ETW troubleshooting tricks that I'd like to share.

Setting up FTP ETW Tracing

Several years ago I wrote a blog about FTP and ETW Tracing, where I described how to turn on the FTP service's ETW tracing through a batch file, and then it used Log Parser to render the output in a datagrid for analysis. In the interests of completeness, here is the batch file again:

@echo off


echo Verifying that LogParser.exe is in the path...
LogParser -h >nul 2>nul
if errorlevel 1 (
  echo Error:
  echo   LogParser.exe is was not found. It is required for parsing traces.
  echo Recommended actions:
  echo   - If LogParser is installed then fix the PATH
  echo     variable to include the LogParser directory
  echo   - If LogParser is not installed, then install
  echo     it from the following location:
  echo   http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=890cd06b-abf8-4c25-91b2-f8d975cf8c07
  goto :EOF
) else (
  echo Done.


echo Starting the ETW session for full FTP tracing...
logman start "ftp" -p "IIS: Ftp Server" 255 5 -ets
echo Now reproduce your problem.
echo After you have reproduced your issue, hit any key to close the FTP
echo tracing session. Your trace events will be displayed automatically.


echo Closing the ETW session for full FTP tracing...
logman stop "ftp" -ets


echo Parsing the results - this may take a long time depending on the size of the trace...
LogParser "select EventTypeName, UserData from ftp.etl" -e 2 -o:DATAGRID -compactModeSep " | " -rtp 20

When you save and run this batch file, it will display something like the following:


Verifying that LogParser.exe is in the path...

Starting the ETW session for full FTP tracing...
The command completed successfully.

Now reproduce your problem.

After you have reproduced your issue, hit any key to close the FTP tracing session. Your trace events will be displayed automatically.

When you see this displayed, you will need to reproduce your problem, and FTP's ETW tracing will record the troubleshooting information.

Once you have reproduced your problem, hit a key to end the ETW session, and you will see the following message displayed:

Closing the ETW session for full FTP tracing...
The command completed successfully.

Parsing the results - this may take a long time depending on the size of the trace...

The batch file will eventually call Log Parser to parse the ETW events, and a dialog like the following will be displayed:

Troubleshooting Custom FTP Providers with ETW Tracing

Now that you know how to set up FTP's ETW tracing, let's examine what you should be looking for in the tracing information.In all of the examples in this blog, I am using the XML-based authentication provider that is documented in the How to Use Managed Code (C#) to Create an FTP Authentication Provider using an XML Database walkthrough.

The following illustration highlights several lines that show the FTP service starting its authentication process, loading my custom authentication provider, and ending the authentication process after I have successfully logged in:

This example shows what everything looks like when it works as expected, so now let's look at what happens when something goes wrong.

If I use the same provider, but I enter my username or password incorrectly, I will see the following lines in the trace:

This example informs you that the provider was loaded successfully, but the logon failed. The error code that is returned is 0x8007052E - this hexadecimal 32-bit value can be split into 16-bit values:

  • 8007 - This code informs you that this is a Win32 error.
  • 052E - This code coverts to 1326 in decimal, and if you enter "NET HELPMSG 1326" from a command-prompt, that will tell you that the error was "Logon failure: unknown user name or bad password."

If I continue to use the same provider as earlier, and I delete the XML file that my provider uses, then I will receive the following error:

Once again, this example informs you that the provider was loaded successfully, but an error occurred. In this specific case you see the actual details that the XML file exists, and that is an error that is returned by a throw() statement in the provider. The error code that is returned is 0x80070057 - and once again this hexadecimal 32-bit value can be split into 16-bit values:

  • 8007 - This code informs you that this is a Win32 error.
  • 0057 - This code coverts to 87 in decimal, and if you enter "NET HELPMSG 87" from a command-prompt, that will tell you that the error was "The parameter is incorrect."

If I replace the missing XML file for the provider, but I remove all of the permissions to the file, I get the following error:

As in the previous examples, this informs you that the provider was loaded successfully, but an error occurred. You can't look up the 0x80131500 error code by using "NET HELPMSG" from a command-prompt, but that doesn't matter since the error description informs you of the problem - access to the path where the file is located was denied.

If I enter a bad provider name, I get the following error:

Unlike the previous examples, this informs you that the provider was not loaded successfully. The description for this error informs you that it could not load the provider, and it gives you the assembly information. In addition to the error description, the error code that is returned by the FTP service is 0x80070002 - and once again this hexadecimal 32-bit value can be split into 16-bit values:

  • 8007 - This code informs you that this is a Win32 error.
  • 0002 - This code is obviously 2 in decimal, so if you enter "NET HELPMSG 2" from a command-prompt, that will tell you that the error was "The system cannot find the file specified."

So now let's look at a common perplexing problem:

This example shows the same 0x8007052E error code that we looked at in a previous example, but you'll notice that any reference to the provider is conspicuously absent from the trace - this means that the FTP service made no attempt to load the custom authentication provider. In this specific case, even though I had correctly registered my custom FTP authentication provider on the system, I had not added or enabled the custom authentication provider for my FTP site.


In this blog I showed you how to troubleshoot several different errors with FTP custom authentication providers by using FTP's ETW features.

As a parting thought, I should point out that the most-common error that I run into when creating my own providers is the last example. Believe it or not, I nearly always miss a step when I am creating a new provider and I forget to add a setting here or there which will cause the FTP service to completely ignore my provider. A perfect example is when I am writing custom home directory providers - I always remember to add the provider to the global list of FTP providers, and I usually remember to add the provider to the list of custom features for my FTP site, but I forget to configure my FTP site to use custom user isolation and my provider is ignored. (Darn, darn, darn...)


Note: This blog was originally posted at http://blogs.msdn.com/robert_mcmurray/

AppCmd 80070057 errors when configuring site-level settings

I had an interesting question from a coworker who was trying to use AppCmd to set the site-level SSL options for an FTP site. This should have been straightforward, and the syntax that he gave me looked correct:

appcmd.exe set config -section:system.applicationHost/sites -[name='Default FTP Site'].ftpServer.security.ssl.controlChannelPolicy:SslAllow /commit:apphost

That being said, whenever he or I ran the command we received the following cryptic error from AppCmd:

Failed to process input: The parameter 'Site'].ftpServer.security.ssl.controlChannelPolicy='SslAllow'' must begin with a / or - (HRESULT=80070057).

The HRESULT=80070057 code can mean either "One or more arguments are invalid" or "The parameter is incorrect", which seemed wrong to me because the arguments looked correct. Based on the error message referring to the word 'Site', I retried the command using the site ID instead of the site name:

appcmd.exe set config -section:system.applicationHost/sites -[id='4'].ftpServer.security.ssl.controlChannelPolicy:SslAllow /commit:apphost

This worked as expected, so I knew that somehow the problem was with the site name.

I searched around and I found a forum post on IIS.NET where Anil Ruia had stated that when the site name has a space in it you should enclose the entire parameter statement in quotes. Armed with that knowledge, I tried the following command:

appcmd.exe set config -section:system.applicationHost/sites "-[name='Default FTP Site'].ftpServer.security.ssl.controlChannelPolicy:SslAllow" /commit:apphost

This fixed the problem and the command worked as I would have originally expected.

By the way, in general you should be able use the following command to get the FTP syntax listing for an area:

appcmd.exe set config -section:system.applicationHost/sites -? | find /i "ftp"

This wouldn't have helped my coworker identify the problem with the "name" parameter, but it would have helped by giving him the syntax for using the "id" parameter.

Note: This blog was originally posted at http://blogs.msdn.com/robert_mcmurray/