Robert McLaws: Windows Edition

Blogging about Windows since before Vista became a bad word

December 2006 - Posts

  • Installing Adobe Reader 8 on Windows Vista

    Adobe is pushing Reader 8 as their Vista-compatible version of Acrobat Reader. The ironic part of that is, it doesn't install properly on Windows Vista. Adobe was no help, but Google to the rescue. Fortunately, Ohad came across this issue not two days before Christmas. Thanks Ohad!

    Shame on you Adobe. You better fix this before Vista is available to consumers.

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  • Tagged: Five Things You Didn't Know About Me

    Long tagged me today. So now I have to tell 5 things about myself. As much as I HATE talking abut myself, here goes...

    1. I almost didn't have this career. In 2000, I received and accepted a 4 year full-ride Air Force ROTC scholarship to Arizona State University. However, I didn't pass the medical portion of the screening. Had I passed, I'd probably be flying sorties over Iraq right now.
    2. My parents are divorced, and both remarried.... so now my family is frickin huge. So I now have 9 siblings. 3 biological sisters (one is my twin), no biological brothers, 4 stepsisters, and two stepbrothers. 3 of my stepsiblings are hispanic, and I have 4 black stepcousins. Oh yeah, two of the hispanic stepsiblings are fraternal twins, and I have a sister named Meghan and a stepsister named Megan. This is completely true... and don't even think about stealing it. I'm already writing the sitcom.
    3. By the time I was 16, I had 10 years of experience working in restaurants. My dad was a manager for JB's Restaurants, and opened a bunch of stores in Mesa/Tempe/Phoenix. One night, his dishwashers walked out, and he didn't have any subs. So my twin sister and I stood on crates and washed dishes all night. It didn't bother us, we were helping my mom clean up the kitchen at 3. After that, I went to work with my dad whenever I could, including several summers of my teenage years at his restaurant in Show Low, AZ.
    4. One of my relatives (I think he was my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, but I can't verify because my dad has the geneology book) and a grandfather of the current president of the Mormon church were the first documented settlers of what later became Arizona. But while almost all of my relatives are Mormon, I'm a Catholic.
    5. I'm related to Lafayette McLaws (I'm pretty sure he was my great-great-great-grandfather), a famous general under Robert E. Lee. Apparently, he liked to write a lot (although his writings were published more than a century after his death), and a lot of people have written about him. He's probably the oldest McLaws to have a website.

    So who's "it" now? Let's go with Bob Stein, Steven Bink, Jeff Sandquist, Brad Wardell, and Jim Allchin.

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  • Geez, Apparently Anyone is an Expert These Days

    I love Engadget. But apparently these days, they'll link to anyone. Consider this post: the blog they link to has a single post int it, puportedly with "inside information" about the next two Windows releases. The problem is, the information they link to is grossly inaccurate. For one thing, Microsoft would never put out a release that "completely breaks backwards compatibility" as a feature, and for another... WinFS as we knew it is long dead. But that's just the start... almost all of this information is completely made up.

    The folks at Engadget usually know what they're talking about, but this is just irresponsible. But Engadget aren't the only ones that screwed up, their source was Slashdot, whose source was PCLaunches.com, whose source was this one-post wonder.

    What a wonderful New Year's game of "telephone". If you're looking for real and accurate Windows news, there are several other great news sources you should trust. PCLaunches.com is definitely not one of them.

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  • WindowsNow in PC Magazine (Again)

    I just got my copy of the January 2007 edition of PC Magazine, which is dedicated to the Vista launch. Although the gaming console rundown on pages 40-41 have some pretty glaring errors (the 360 doesn't do HDMI, the 360's WiFi is A/G, and the Wii controller uses Bluetooth, not infared... among the most glaring), there is no mistaking that we're one of their Top 5 Vista Resources (page 88).

    Thanks PCMag for once again showing us some love.

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  • Microsoft "Gifts" and Ethics

    Apparently, the web is aflame over a bunch of new computers. But the whole story hasn't been reported on. Plus I intend to add my two cents.

    When I was at Gnomedex this year, I was discussing the Featured Communities program with the AMD rep that was there. He told me that I should "keep an eye out" because "some cool hardware would be coming to Featured Communities at the end of the year." My thought? SWEET. I love trying out new hardware.

    Now, I don't know if Microsoft is the one that initiated the deal, or if it was AMD. But what I do know is that it was initially an effort to get AMD computers in the hands of Microsoft enthusiasts, at a time when the processor wars are heating back up. Microsoft decided to add Vista after the fact. AMD decided to go beyond Featured Communities members, which is why others have gotten them too

    When I got the e-mail giving me a choice betwen a couple systems, I was told that I could either give the system away, or keep it for myself. Being the selfish greedy b@stard that I am, and having dealt with the crappiest Tecra M4 in the world, I decided to keep mine. So, some people think that's bribery. Fine. Some people think the Holocaust didn't happen, too. You get SWAG for going to a conference, why is this any different? I was a Microsoft MVP for 3 years, which was a reward for past efforts with Microsoft software, trips, and buttloads of NDA information. Is that bribery too?

    So why does accepting a laptop compromise ones integrity? Brandon and others have been brow-beaten for taking it... you think that their opinion of Microsoft was bought? Gimme a friggin break man. I, like the others that got a new toy, were pro-Microsoft LONG before we got said toy. We'll be pro-Microsoft long after, and not because we "got free crap".

    It couldn't have been that AMD and Microsoft wanted to give presents to their friends at Christmas. So we should give them back. Then all of you should send back your Christmas presents, too. Because you've never tried to buy anyone's love at Christmas, right?

    You can flame us all you want. Question our credibility if you want. Say we "sold our souls" for $2400. Fine. Most of you have been taken out to lunch for a business deal or interview. And most of you have made up excuses to have your company "comp" a trip to a conference. So get off your freakin high horse, you don't have the moral high-ground. Read my blog, don't read my blog. I don't care. But don't act like you're so altruistic.

    Hopefully there's no question where I stand on the issue. And thanks to AMD and Microsoft for the fantastic gift. It was one of the best Christmas presents I ever got... at least it will be when I pick it up tomorrow. But I still think the Core 2 Duo is better.

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  • OTG for the Holidays

    I'm headed to Colorado to visit my family for Christmas (was supposed to go on the 20th, but the blizzard screwed with those plans), so I'll be Off The Grid for most of the rest of the year. Before I leave, I just wanted to wish everyone a Merry Christahanukwanzakah (how's THAT for all inclusive?) and Good Riddance to 2006! Lets hope that 2007 bring better days.

    Speaking of 2007, I'll be headed to CES in Vegas from January 5 - 10, and I'll be at the Vista Launch in Phoenix on the 17th. In between CES and the Official Vista Launch, I've got a series of posts I've been working on that will blow the lid off Windows Pricing. It's been a lot of fun to research, and I hope you'll enjoy it.

    Thanks for reading!

    -Robert :)

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  • JimAll Sets The Record Straight on Sophos Malware Report

    It's great to have Jim on-hand to clear the air when people get the facts on Vista wrong. Case in point: Sophos' report that Vista's vulnerable to common malware. Jim sez:

    On November 30, Sophos issued its monthly report on the top ten threats reported to them in November of 2006.  As a part of this, Sophos also studied Windows Vista's vulnerability to these malware threats.  I found the information and press discussion confusing, so I thought I would clarify what this really means for customers.

    In order to understand what was really going on here, I asked the team to go look at the technical facts behind the story, and that started in the lab.  We began by observing first-hand how these various forms of malware affect a Windows Vista system using a system that was configured with the default settings and without any additional security software.  What we found was that if you are using only the software in Windows Vista (e.g., Windows Mail and no add-on security software), then you are immune to all ten of the malware threats that Sophos cited.

    Read more at the Official Windows Vista Blog.

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  • Microsoft Launching Live Drive @ CES?

    Josh just received his CES 2007 guide, and in it was this ad from Microsoft:

    Could this be the Windows Live Drive that we've been waiting for?

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  • Vista Display Changes Have Unintended Consequences

    One of Vista's best new features is a drastically overhauled display driver model. Based on analysis from Microsoft's Windows Error Reporting data, most of the BSODs in Windows are caused by bad drivers, and a large percentage of those bad drivers are graphics card drivers. So the WDDM aimed to solve that problem by building a much more robust display model which took over large operations that were previously required at the driver-level.

    The changes have saved my butt on plenty of occasions. Before, when a graphics card driver crapped out, so did the rest of your system. I've lost data many times because my Nvidia card decided it didn't like an instruction that was just passed in, and decided to give me the blue finger. In Vista, a failed graphics driver is no problem. The system just pauses while the driver is reset, then you session resumes where you left off. It's pretty slick.

    But this newfound graphics card stability comes at a fairly hefty price. As Microsoft whitepaper on the WHDC notes, Multi-monitor scenarios have drastically changed as well. In the past, you used to be able to install more than one graphics card from more than one vendor on your system, and it would run fine. But in the WDDM, that is no longer the case. If you want to get the Windows Aero experience, you have to not only be running WDDM drivers, but you have to be running the same drivers for each card, meaning that each card has to be from the same vendor.

     Microsoft's reasoning is as follows:

    The use of multiple graphics adapters occurred when graphics hardware vendors did not expose multiple connectors on graphics adapters. Today, almost all modern adapters support two or three connectors such as DVI, VGA, and S-Video. Also, most OEMs are now offering SLI/Crossfire configurations that support two or more graphics adapters that could also be used to connect more than two display devices when not in SLI/Crossfire mode.

    Usually, that would make perfect sense. Most graphics cards have two output ports... and SLI cards mean that if you want dual cards... they'll be the same brand, and linked together through a separate interface.

    But here's the problem. There are a number of solutions out there that use emulated display drivers to do some pretty interesting things. MaxiVista is a perfect example of this. It uses an emulated display driver to shuttle your primary or secondary display data to another PC for viewing. It's like an all in one dual-monitor/KVM/presentation system. But Vista's features have severely limited their software:

    First of all, we were first in finding the product name (trademark registration) ;-)

    • Windows Vista unfortunately introduces some serious limitations when using multiple monitors. This limitations are independent from MaxiVista and you also experience them when using physical video cards: Windows Vista generally disallows installing multiple WDDM video cards from different vendors. This means you cannot install e.g. a ATI video card along with a nVidia card on the same PC if one of them is using WDDM drivers (more information by Microsoft). Therefore, MaxiVista can only support the classic, non-aqua display mode of Windows Vista when using legacy XPDM drivers for your physical video adapters. (Emphasis mine)
    • Windows Vista generally does not allow you to log on to remote PCs using any 3rd party software "for your safety". This means, that the new MaxiVista feature to use the viewer program as a service and to log onto the secondary PC via the remote control feature does not work. This is a Windows Vista restriction, not a MaxiVista limitation.
    • Windows Vista x64 disallows to install software with unsigned drivers "for your safety". As MaxiVista drivers are not yet signed, it does not work under Windows Vista 64 Bit OS.

    This was really disappointing to me, as I was looking to use MaxiVista as a cheap KVM solution to manage my Windows Media Center computer from a console session. I wanted to do it this way because Windows Media Center will not let you watch TV over a Remote Desktop session, and it won't let me use another Vista Media Center PC as an Extender.

    I really hope that Microsoft and MaxiVista are able to find a solution to these problems. One way would be for MaxiVista to work with AMD/ATI and Nvidia to create display drivers that work in WDDM mode and appear as Nvidia or ATI drivers. That would work around the "heterogeneous graphics driver" limitation in Vista, and allow their place-shifting monitor functionality to work. Or Microsoft could fix WDDM in Vista SP1 to re-enable these use cases.

    Either way, these limitations make Vista's display improvements a mixed blessing.

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  • How Far Should Microsoft Go To Improve Security?

    Joe Wilcox suggests today that hackers are actually Microsoft competitors, and they should be obliterated like Microsoft obliterated Netscape oh-so-many years ago.

    Interesting way of looking at it.

    In his article, he suggests that Microsoft should work with ISPs to identify malware infested computers and block them from the Internet. His argument in a sense compares the situation to the way we deal with criminals in real life. We don't (usually) allow them to roam free and keep committing crimes, we separate them form the rest of society. So why shouldn't we do the same thing for malware-infested computers wreaking havoc on the net? 

    There are a couple ways this could happen:

    1. After several unsuccessful attempts to clean a computer, Windows Defender could automatically shut off Windows Firewall and force the user to take the computer in for repair.
    2. Same as #1, only Defender sends a message to the ISP to shut off the Internet connection to the subscriber.
    3. Force developers writing apps to have their programs go through some kind of certification process, at the end of which the program would be issued a keycode that allowed it to access the Internet. Then, the ISP could filter out keyed and non-keyed communication by having the app key add authorization date to each IP packet.

    The problem with #1 is that Windows Firewall is programmable, and it would be easy for the malware to intercept/override this call. #2 is a bit extreme, and #3 might be too difficult to implement.

    So, would people actually put up with these kinds of measures? It seems to me like the only thing this does is punish the victims, since most users don't know their computer has been zombie-fied.

    Now, it does seem to make sense that the ISP could block certain TYPES of traffic based on the infection state. For example, most botnets are used to send out hoards of spam. In that scenario, Defender could send reports to the ISP, and if the problem can't be cleaned, then the ISP could block SMTP traffic for that subscriber.

    So, dear readers, should Microsoft start punishing the few to protect the many?

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  • Scoble Wants a Vista v Mac Debate

    Scoble has thrown down the gauntlet, and wants to set up The Great OS Debate between Vista and OS X. It's make a hell of a podcast, but I'm not sure what the point is beyond that. What would that kind of "meeting of the minds" accomplish? Would it actually bring people from one camp or the other? Or would it just be a pointless waste of breath and time?

    The simple truth of the matter is, the masses use Windows. Sure, there are a small percentage of people that use Macs, but most people use whatever is put in front of them.

    Given the option, would people use Macs? Well, Mac hardware is better than Mac software IMO, and I think the recent boost in Mac sales is more due to the fact that you can now dual-boot to Windows than anything else. If Dell offered OS X on their computers as an option, would people choose it? Maybe. But that's the Catch-22 for OS X... the only reason you can tout it as being resistant to attacks is because it's not a big enough target. If they gain too much market share, the attacks will go up.

    Having said all that, I'd gladly accept any opportunity to evangelize the Vista platform to people that haven't experienced it yet.

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  • I Don't Understand Free Software

     

    Speaking of the FSF... I don't understand why these people think all software should be free. Nothing else in life is. So if ALL software is free... how are software developers supposed to be paid? The US Department of Labor says that nearly 3 million people in the US are employed in tech-related industries, and those employees are collectively paid 180 billion dollars annually. How are all those people supposed to feed their families if the fruits of their labor are not sold to the people who need it?

    I'm going to use something unrelated to tech that my girlfriend put me through I just dealt with at home as an example. Say you're a company called Coach, and you make high-quality purses. Now does the fact that you make them entitle anyone else to duplicate them and redistribute them to unsuspecting customers? Well, I lost $120 because my girlfriend bought what she thought was an authentic Coach purse on eBay from a counterfeiter in China who listed the item from a UK address. But apparently, because computer programmers are smarter than everyone else, and you can make digital copies, anyone should be able to do whatever the hell they want with it, even if that means copy it and give sell it to others. Yeah, that makes sense.

    There was a movement that made big gains a number of years ago (and still popular in some places), with the idea that everything for everyone should be free. Wasn't it called communism?

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  • FSF Anti-Vista Campaign Nothing But FUD

    If you thought the Free Software Foundation was all about the grand ideals of liberating information for the sake of the world, they just made you look like an idiot.

    BadVista.org proves that the FSF is nothing more than a bunch of whiny babies who are still pissed off that Microsoft was aggressive in the 90s. And it's probably one of the most blatantly ridiculous FUD campaigns I've ever seen.

    The campaign will organize supporters into effective and unusual actions drawing attention to this daylight theft of computer users' rights, aggregate news stories cutting through the Vista marketing propaganda, and provide a user-friendly gateway to the adoption of free software operating systems like gNewSense (http://www.gnewsense.org).

    Peter Brown, executive director of the FSF said, “Whilst Microsoft embarks upon its largest ever product launch, its marketing dollars will be spent in an effort to fool the media and user community about the goals of Vista. Our campaign will ask the important questions. Can you set yourself or your company free? Can you ever be free from Microsoft? As with our campaign against Digital Restrictions Management, we aim to demonstrate that technologists can be social activists, because we know the harm that Vista will cause”.

    Among other harms, BadVista.org will focus on the danger posed by Treacherous Computing in Vista. Commonly called Trusted Computing in the industry, it is an attempt to turn computers from machines controlled by their user into machines that monitor their user and refuse to operate in ways that manufacturers don't authorize.

    So forget about the other thousands of other tech companies out there that sells software... Microsoft is the real root of all evil. And to the FSF, Vista is the Antichrist. I guess that means I'm going to Hell then. At least I'll be with friends.

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  • Microsoft Cracking Down on Vista Cracks

    Filed under: ,

    Microsoft went on the offensive today regarding the recent Vista pirating efforts coming out of China and other countries. The WGA blog posted a brief comment, while the PR department issued a wide-ranging press release.

    With the exception of products purchased by customers under volume license agreements, users can be confident that 100 percent of the copies of Windows Vista advertised for purchase or download prior to the January 30, 2007 consumer general availability date are counterfeit, and that any new PC purchased and pre-loaded with Windows Vista prior to general availability is improperly licensed or counterfeit software, and carries a risk of hacks, Trojans or other malware.

    ...

    As part of its ongoing efforts to protect customers, Microsoft will periodically review product keys that appear to have been leaked or stolen, and will thoroughly investigate reports of system file tampering. Because a system file tamper compromises the integrity of the operating system, and puts the user at risk, reinstallation of the operating system may be required. For product keys that have been determined to be illegally obtained or distributed, Microsoft will block these keys, which will eventually result in the system losing access to product enhancements and having certain features disabled.  In some cases, the user will be asked to reactivate with a genuine product key. Failure to reactivate will result in that copy of Windows Vista being placed into a reduced functionally mode, as explained in our October “Software Protection Platform” announcement. It is important to note that even in reduced functionality mode users can always gain access to their personal data.

    In the event illegal workarounds or other counterfeit Windows Vista code are posted to the Internet or become available through other means, Microsoft will take appropriate action to protect users from the risks of using counterfeit copies and to protect its intellectual property. Microsoft may take additional steps to stop the spread and use of counterfeit versions of Windows Vista by releasing updates to the software, and then distributing the updates using various mechanisms, such as posting them on Microsoft.com and/or through Windows Update. 

    Counterfeit software packages in Brazil.

    Counterfeit software packages in Brazil.

    This week, Microsoft released such an update, which detects tampering of Windows Vista by mixing files from various test and final versions of the software in order to work around licensing mechanisms. When detected, these unauthorized copies will be given a 30-day grace period, after which they will be placed into a reduced functionality mode. This week’s update will only affect systems that are running a specific binary-tampered version of Windows Vista (emphasis mine).

    Come on pirates. You thought Microsoft was going to sit on the sidelines this time?

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