Robert McLaws: Windows Edition

Blogging about Windows since before Vista became a bad word

December 2005 - Posts

  • VPN Issues in December CTP

    Having a problem with VPN connections in 5270? Yeah, me too. I found a solution in the newsgroups that might help.

    Instead of using the UI in Network Center, which is broken, click the Start Orb, and type rasphone. When it comes up in the Search Menu, right click on it and select "Pin to Start Menu". This makes it easily accessible. Then click the Start Orb again, and run the new rasphone.exe option. This is the old-school UI for dealing with dialed connections. You can easily create new connections, configure old ones, etc.

    The problem will be fixed in future builds, but this makes it a bit less inconvenient. Thanks to Michael Pitt for the solution!

  • The Best Christmas Present Of All

    Yeah, alright... I'm a geek. Duh. I've been waiting all year for a build of Longhorn / Windows Vista that would run well on my Toshiba Tecra M4. You've seen me whine and moan about how terrible all the other builds have been. It's a good thing I wasn't allowed to talk about 5259... cause that wouldn't have been pretty. But Microsoft finally came through for me and all the other beta testers with the most stable version of Windows Vista yet.. Build 5270.

    Now, other testers have had great experiences, and I'm not bagging on Microsoft... I know it's a beta. But while Microsoft has been dogfooding Vista builds for months, I haven't been able to use a single release for more than 72 hours without getting pissed and reformatting my hard drive. I got so tired of wasting the time every 5 weeks, that I finally broke down and bought Norton Ghost, which admittedly I should have done a long time ago.

    Everything about the 5270 experience was great. Even though the DVD had Longhorn Server on it, it was still several hundred megabytes smaller than previous builds. Microsoft finally ditched the Driver Compatibility Pack, which ultimately took up about half of space on the ISO. Installation was a breeze, even though upgrading was not supported. The new installation UI was nice. Some people have said it's Aero Glass, for the record, it's not... it's just reskinned to look like Glass. It's actually an image... probably a JPG or PNG file. I'm still confused as to why you set a computer name before installation starts, and you set it again while creating a profile, but I'm sure that's on the list to be cleaned up.

    Installation was much shorter when I started the process from a mounted ISO in XP than it was on a clean install from DVD. It's probably due to DVD transfer rates on the WIM image, so it wasn't a big deal. I tell you what, though... for a boxed product, I think it would be neat if Microsoft sold Windows Vista on a branded USB2 key or external hard drive... install would be way faster. Anyways, after the first boot, it automatically connected to Windows Update to grab the drivers formerly in the XP Driver Compatibility Pack... which was really nice. There were even new drivers in there for my sound card and modem.

    But alas, none of the other Tablet-related drivers work. It's not that Windows Vista crashes, it's just that I get a bunch of errors like "Can't get ACPI namespace" and that kind of crap. It would be nice if, as a beta tester, we could interact with hardware vendors as well, but because I'm not on campus bugging the crap out of every Windows developer I can find, I can't get my hands on anything decent.

    I was, however, able to get LDDM display drivers working, though. They're the generic GeForce Go 6600 drivers, not for the 6600 TE, but it works. The resolution doesn't go up to the exact resolution of my screen, but it's close enough. I've heard rumors about M4-specific drivers, but after all the false rumors going round about the status of Vista over the last few months (5276, no Beta 2, anyone?) I'm not gonna believe it till I see it.

    The OS speed was really slow the first few times I used it. But I've noticed that my computer runs much faster under solid LDDM drivers than it does my XP ones. Microsoft's made some great strides there. Speaking of which, here's an interesting observation: Office "12" runs at least 5x faster under LDDM-enabled Windows Vista than it does under Windows XP. It even runs better on Windows Vista than Office 2003 does on XP. Outlook "12" opens up in about about second for me, whereas Outlook 2003 takes anywhere from 7-15 seconds to load. Not bad for an "unsupported" scenario.

    The OS is killer, too. The UI is much cleaner, I LOVE the new Start Orb, and the fit and polish is definitely starting to come into place. It feels much more stable, and really responsive. MCE is cleaner, the animations are crisper, and it crashes far less often. They still don't have it working right in Glass... now instead of crashing, the window goes black. Hey, at least I don't have to reboot when it fails.

    There are several things that I don't like, though... and a few I can't stand. The Network Center is a great idea... but I want to be able to see my connection in the System Tray. Often, that's the quickest way to know that I'm connected, and it helps me troubleshoot VPN issues. Speaking of VPNs, I don't like that it takes several more clicks to get to your network connections than it used to. And it takes more clicks to get to my display properties too, which is also annoying.

    The most annoying thing, by far, is User Account Control (UAC). For power users, it's probably the most annoying thing ever invented. For end users, they buy Windows preconfigured with a bunch of apps, so they probably won't encounter it as much. But there's no way to disable it for a few days while you're setting up a clean install, or even shut it off for a few hours. There ought to be a way to tie the protection to a USB key, so that while it's in, you're not bugged about it. The whole point is to not run as an administrator, but that's exactly what I'm doing to avoid being bothered by it. I haven't had a virus or spyware in years.. I don't need my computer doing for me what I'm smart enough to do on my own.

    The only real thing I have left to do is install Virtual PC so I can run my development environment. If the OS proves itself stable throughout the rest of the year, I might even install all the WinFX/VS2005 stuff and see what that experience is like.

    At any rate, thanks Microsoft for waiting to put out a decent build. You guys have done a great job. I just hope you guys don't stop taking feature requests in January while there's still for 4 months of testing. And here's to hoping that I don't have to wait for Cupid or a Leprechaun to bring me working Toshiba drivers...

  • What to Expect in the December CTP

    According to Shannen Boettcher, a senior director of the Windows Group, there are four "themes" being focused on for Build 5270. Here's an overview of each theme, and features to lookout for:

    • Security
      • Group policy for removable devices, including USB
      • Windows Defender
        • Runs in Standard User Mode
        • Lets you monitor virtually all system changes, including drivers
      • Internet Explorer
        • IDN Support
        • Domain Spoofing checks (checks for international characters in english domain names)
      • Parental Controls
        • Limit logon times for kids
        • Website access list
        • Computer usage reports
      • Firewall
        • Bi-directional filtering
        • Integrated IPSec
    • Mobility 
      • Tablet Support
      • SuperFetch
        • USB key support - adds an option to the AutoPlay list
      • Full Volume Encryption - new name: "BitLocker"
        • Available from Control panel
    • User Interface
      • New Start button - "The orb"
      • New start menu
      • Single-button on/off
        • Default state = sleep, rolling over to hibernate after x minutes
      • Updated MCE UI
      • Updated WMP 11 UI

    I'll update this list as I explore the build.

  • PostTypeIcon
  • WinFX December CTP Available

    Tom Archer informs us that the WinFX December CTP is available for public download. You don't need to be an MSDN Subscriber to get it, but you do need a RTM version of VS2005.

    NOTE: Windows Vista - December CTP is NOT YET AVAILABLE on MSDN. Not sure if it's going out today or tomorrow.

  • WinFX Runtime Components (RTC) - WinFX redistributables (runtime binaries) for executing WinFX applications
  • Windows SDK - Includes the header files, libraries and help documentation for developing the next generation of Windows applications. Note that this release (and all future releases of the Windows SDK includes the WinFX SDK).
  • Visual Studio Code Name "Orcas" CTP WinFX Development Tools - provides developers with support for building WinFX applications using the final released version of Visual Studio 2005. This support includes XAML Intellisense support through schema extensions for the editor, project templates for the Windows Presentation Foundation and the Windows Communication Foundation, and WinFX SDK documentation integration. New to this CTP is a preview of the Visual Designer for Windows Presentation Foundation (code name "Cider").
  • Windows Vista - substantial advance in Windows with significant innovations in the developer platform. Combining Windows Vista and the Windows SDK makes it easier than ever before to build applications that are more secure, reliable, and manageable.
  • Find out more here: Windows Vista - Get the Beta

    UPDATE: You can also find a version of the Windows Workflow Foundation beta that runs on the December CTP here.

  • Vista's Graphics HAVE NOT Changed

    MaryJo corrects the article that was posted by TechWorld yesterday.

    Here's my take on the situation. These guys pulled together a bunch of information that had been released previously, and pieced them together to draw a conclusion that was completely inaccurate. They couldn't even get the name of the subsystem that was supposedly pulled right. For one thing, WPF is not the graphics sybsystem in Windows Vista. It was at one point, ages ago, and all the really cool Shell stuff was built on top of it. But it's not now.

    Microsoft did say that display driver issues were the #1 cause of system crashes and the dreaded "Blue Screen of Death", so that's where their phrase "many lock-ups are the result of the GUI freezing" might have come from.

    In regards to the Longhorn Display Driver Model (LDDM), they were already pulling that whole system out of Kernel mode anyways. They're trying to clean up the kernel level code so that as few systems are running in there as possible. Why? Well, as Rob Mensching (of WiX fame) explained last week, you can't replace kernel-level files while they're running. I would quote what he said here, but just read the "Why are reboots necessary?" section.

    At any rate, TechWorld basically mangled the English language to a point that you can kind of see where they got their thinking, but they put words into Microsoft's mouth. Windows Vista already had the graphics drivers running in User Mode. They're working on moving all drivers out of the kernel, so there can be fewer BSODs.

    All the more reason why it is so important to research your stories and get them right before you post them. Apparently bad reporting is not limited to politics and world events.

  • My Second Ideal Feature: Multiple Monitors

    Ugh. I HATE Windows XP's approach to multiple monitors. I'm sick and tired of having to traverse 1500 pixels to get to my damned taskbar. I'm tired of my app minimizing across screens.

    If I could get the feature in before the January Feature Complete CTP/Beta, I'd make Windows Vista much more intuitive with multiple screens. I'd make it have a Start Menu on each screen, and I'd make the screen's display area its own host. Initially, I'd want the program to minimize to the taskbar of the monitor that the majority of the application is displayed on (more than 50% of the window). Eventually, I'd like to be able to set which taskbar individtal applications dock to, and be smart enough to remember when I switch between single-monitor and multi-monitor modes.

    The Windows Vista demo video that was shown at WinHEC and PDC had a 2 second slice that looked like it showed off this technology. But I have yet to see it in any builds. Is that because NVIDIA sucks and won't release interim drivers to general beta testers? Maybe. But even the new Maxivista won't cut it for me. I want TRUE multi-monitor support. Not the after-though that's there now.

    PRETTY PRETTY PLEASE, Microsoft??!?!

  • My Ideal Windows Vista Feature

    With the Windows Vista train speeding towards the Feature Complete station, I've been trying to come up with a feature that I wouldn't be able to live without. I've found one, and I'm hoping there's enough time to get it into the OS.

    Windows XP has an available but unsupported tool that lets users mount ISO files as virtual CD-ROM drives. This tool does not work in current Windows Vista builds, however. I think support for this should be built into the shell. I should be able to right-click on any ISO file and have an option to mount it to a virtual drive. Wouldn't that be cool?

    Also, now that Microsoft has opened the standard for the Virtual Hard Disk Format, there should be support for mounting and accessing virtual hard drives in the shell as well. You obviously wouldn't be able to be running a guest VM from the same VHD that is mounted to the host OS, but it would still be really nice to be able to access files stored in there.

    Think about the scenarios it would enable for system backups as well. What if you could have a utility inside the new Windows Startup Repair option that would let you boot from a VHD, or have a VHD as a "recovery OS" that would let you get access to critical files on the real hard drive if the OS is badly damaged?  It would be really cool.

    Anyways, If I could push any feature out the door, those would be the ones I want the most.

    What about you? This is about the last chance to get your feature idea in before Microsoft stops coding features and starts working on stabilization and cleanup. What would you like them to work on for you? Remember, it is YOUR operating system.