Robert McLaws: Windows Edition

Blogging about Windows since before Vista became a bad word

February 2007 - Posts

  • Bringing a Bit of Microsoft History to the Web

    As I mentioned in the first part of my True Cost of Windows series, I contacted Waggoner Edstrom (Microsoft's PR firm) about getting the MSRP for every edition of Windows before Windows 98. They really came through and did me one better. Since those editions came out before Microsoft launched their website, they're not published anywhere online. They had to contact the Microsoft Archives and dig them out for me.

    Fortunately, I'm not just going to keep them for myself. I've re-published them as PDF files, and posted them to the "Files" section of the site. They are published as they were given to me, save for Word 2007-added matching headers and footers. Hey, if I put the effort in to get them and publish them, the least I can do is put my web address in the footer, right? Especially since they're the only copies on the Internet... at least, as far as I know.

    You can get the Press Releases for Windows 1.0 - Windows 95 here.

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  • Understanding the True Cost of Windows

    Today, CNet's Ina Fried posted a story entitled "Is Windows getting more expensive?" It's a pretty good read, and pretty well-balanced. Unfortunately, it's extremely light on data. She started to really dig into it, but stopped when she should have kept going. Fortunately, I can change all that.

    Well, that's all I needed to get me motivated. I've actually been sitting on a much more thorough investigation of this topic for a little while, but haven't gotten around to wrapping it up. I wanted to put it out at Vista's launch, but ultimately decided not to let it get drowned out in the noise. Since then, I've been so busy that I nearly forgot about it.

    So how can I claim it's more thorough? You're just going to have to read it to find out. I guarantee you won't be disappointed. :)

    Continue to "The True Cost of Windows, Part 1" -->

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  • Vista Doesn't Add DRM To Unprotected Content

    Of all the FUD that's out there about Vista, the false information about Vista's DRM is the FUD that frustrates me the most. I read this article from Peter Gutmann, and was infuriated. I wanted to write a point-by-point rebuttal, but was overwhelmed with the sheer number of glaring inaccuracies, as well as the overwhelming feeling that I was in danger of being hit in the head by a piece of falling sky. It wasn't so much of a research paper as it was a ridiculous story full of melodramatic hyperbole.

    Well, I'm glad someone finally called it out for what it was. George Ou, an IT blogger on ZDNet, blasts security guru Bruce Schneier for quoting Peter Gutmann in his anti-Vista tirade. He even sheds new light on Mr. Gutmann:

    [Update 4:25 PM - The researcher who Bruce Schneier cites who in turn is widely cited in the media as an expert on why Vista DRM is so evil actually admits to never actually even touching Windows Vista.  That's the level of "research" he did.]

    I guess that's how research is done at the University of Auckland.

    I had two or three people come up to me during my launch day stint at Best Buy and ask me if Vista added DRM to unprotected content. I had to have one individual break out a personal DVD of unprotected MP3s, and play them on the demo computer, before he was convinced that Microsoft wasn't having a threesome with the record companies and the Feds.

    FOR THE RECORD: "Vista DRM simply gives you the choice of playing back DRMed content and it does not prevent you from playing back non-DRMed content." It also doesn't add DRM to your unprotected content. PERIOD.

    Thanks George. Very well put.

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  • The Vista Daily #12

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    It's the "where did the week go" edition. I've got some catching-up to do, so here are more links than you can shake a stick at:

    And today...

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  • If The British Royal Navy Ran Windows Vista

    Remember Windows for Workgroups? Try Windows for Warships. You think UAC prompts are bad now? What if you were captain of a British Naval vessel, and were greeted with this:

    Who needs two missile keys when you have UAC to protect you from usurping your command?

    [Hat tip to Long Zheng for the mockup.]

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  • Scoble and I are in This Quarter's BizTech Magazine

    Attack of the "Blogging Roberts": Robert Scoble is featured in an article on blogging in this month's BizTech Magazine, and I make a brief appearance as well. CDW puts out the magazine, which is mostly targeted at CEOs and CTOs. The author, Dan Skeen, is a really great guy, but in an attempt to simplify the situation for his readers, he kind of sensationalized my blogging example a bit, so I wanted to make sure I cleared the air. Here's the quote in question:

    Blogger Robert McLaws (www.windows-now.com) talks with surprising calm about the day he used credentials afforded to him as a popular blogger about Microsoft products to borrow some information from the company’s internal project server. McLaws says he downloaded a complete set of Microsoft bugs and then created a graph showing the correlation between the number of reported bugs and the number of releases. Then, in a clear violation of his nondisclosure agreement with Microsoft, he published the information to his blog, which gets visits from 5 million members each month.

    The situation I'm referring to is the time when I graphed out all of the feedback from Vista that I painstakingly assembled from http://connect.microsoft.com. So, here come the corrections:

    • This website is semi-public, so I didn't "break in" or steal anything, as the quote might lead people to believe.
    • My login was because I was a Windows Vista Technical Beta tester, not just because I was a blogger.
    • The information I copied from the site was incomplete, because a good portion of the feedback was marked "private", therefore I could not see it.
    • If posting the information was a "clear violation" of an NDA, I wouldn't have done it. The reason I posted it, and it was allowed to stay up, was because it was not terribly clear what could and could not be published by being a member of the site. (Also, because the information did more good than harm)
    • Finally, the traffic stats are incorrect; Windows-Now.com gets 5 million page views a month, with 120,000 unique visitors, and we have almost 4,000 registered members.

    Could I have left all that alone? Sure, Dan's version sounds a hell of a lot cooler that mine. But I didn't want people thinking that I was shooting my mouth off, saying that it's OK to steal from Microsoft. Dan tried to make some corrections, but the print article had already gone to press. That's why I usually like to proofread my interviews before they are published. :)

    But it's still a fun article, and you should check it out.

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  • A New Direction for the .NET Framework?

    An interesting series of events have taken place over the last few months in regards to the .NET Framework. Little signs are popping up that lead me to believe that VERY big things are on the horizon. Take a walk with me, and I'll show you the future of .NET:

    Some history:

    1. 5 January 2002: .NET 1.0 is released.
    2. 15 November 2002: The Shared Source Common Language Infrastructure 1.0 is released. This is the source code for the heart of the .NET implementation. It runs on Windows XP, FreeBSD, and Mac OS X 10.2.
    3. 23 March 2006: The Shared Source Common Language Infrastructure 2.0 is released. Support for other operating systems is conspicuously missing.

    More recently:

    1. 5 September 2006: Microsoft releases IronPython 1.0. A member of the IronPython team says: "Not only will we continue to drive IronPython forward but we're also looking at the bigger picture to make all dynamic languages deeply integrated with the .NET platform and with technologies and products built on top of it."
    2. 20 October 2006: John Lam, creator of RubyCLR (a project to get the dynamic-language project Ruby on .NET) is hired by Microsoft. His job? "Bringing dynamic languages to the .NET Framework."
    3. 16 November 2006: Microsoft releases a CTP bringing IronPython to ASP.NET. The download page has this telling bit of information: "The infrastructure is extensible to allow other dynamic languages to plug in as well."
    4. 4 December 2006: The first CTP of Windows Presentation Foundation Everywhere ("WPF/E") is released. Multi-OS support makes a triumphant return, with support for running on both x86 and PowerPC Macs.
    5. 8 December 2006: Jon Udell from InfoWorld announces he's joining Microsoft as an evangelist. In his "exit interview", he sites Jim Hugunin's efforts to make IronPython "A first-class citizen of the .NET platform." as a reason for taking the red pill.
    6. 31 January 2007: The February CTP of "WPF/E" is released. It includes support for both Safari and Firefox on OS X 10.4.

    So, where am I going with all this? Well, I think 2 important things are on the horizon:

    - First, I think the evidence is clear that Microsoft is close to putting together an extension to the .NET runtime to support dynamic languages.

    - Second, I think that the multiple-OS support in "WPF/E" is a precursor to full-blown multi-OS support of the .NET runtime. If "WPF/E" is a subset of WPF, which is built on top of .NET 2.0, then why would Microsoft go through all that effort to make only part of the runtime compatible?  If you've gotten the ball to the 8 yard line, wouldn't you take the risk and go for the touchdown?

    Why go through all this trouble connecting the dots? Because MIX '07 is coming up, and if Microsoft was going to make any big announcements, they'd do it then for sure.

    Anyway, that's just what I think. Anyone else heard any rumblings about this?

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  • Vista Wallpaper Mania!

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    Long's interview with Vista wallpaper photographer Hamad Darwish has finally borne fruit. Today he put up the high-res versions of the pictures he promised that didn't make the Vista cut. Visit his home page to get them now. Hope he's ready for the bandwidth he's about to chew through.

    It just so happened that I've also found some other really cool Vista wallpapers... in the Windows Vista Starter install. I was poking through it last night, taking a look at what the Vista Starter experience was like. They're definitely great pictures, even if most are lower-res (I'm guessing that Vista Starter limits screen resolution to 1024x786, but I can't confirm that yet).

    They shouldn't be locked in the Vista Starter install, so I've zipped them up for the rest of the world to enjoy. You can download them here.

    In all, that makes over 60 images for your desktop enjoyment. Have at it!

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  • Clearing the Air About Vista and Virtualization

    The Associated Press paraphrased Microsoft's Scott Woodgate as saying "Microsoft considered banning virtualizing Vista entirely, on all versions." Some people have been characterizing it as saying that Microsoft wanted to "remove virtualization from Vista."

    There's only one problem with that line of thinking. You can't "remove virtualization" from the operating system. With the exception of Xen and Viridian, virtualization is a function of add-on software that sits on top of an operating system, not inside it. Virtualization is enabled through emulating a hardware platform through software. Some virtualization platforms add special drivers that can give virtual hardware access to physical hardware. But with Microsoft's current technology, the hardware emulation platform cannot run on "bare iron", or Ring 0 of the kernel.

    Now, with Xen and Viridian, all that changes. That's because both sit between the hardware and the kernel, in a place some people call "Ring -1." Every installation on top of Viridian is a virtual one, even the primary operating system.

    Having said that, Vista is aware of when it's running in a virtualized environment, and can make optimizations when it does so. Conversely, they could have put in technological barriers that would prevent Vista from running in a virtualized environment, but they haven't even done that. The only virtualization limitation in Vista Home Basic or Home Premium is a legal one.  (That's not to say it's not important, I'm just saying that MS didn't go to extreme lengths to enforce the EULA, nor am I advocating that anyone break their EULA). I know this for a fact, because I just installed Windows Vista Home Basic on my Windows Vista Ultimate machine, and it runs just fine. I'll be trying to install Virtual PC 2007 on Home Premium tomorrow evening to make sure It will work there too... I'll report the results then.

    Besides that, why is the fact that they considered banning it in the EULA news? They didn't do it, so who cares? I've considered what my legs would look like if I replaced my feet with roller blades, it doesn't mean I've done it.

    Anyway, just wanted to clear that up.

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  • Windows Vista Sales Numbers May Always Be Murky

    I was reading another article about the lack of clarity in the Vista sales numbers, when I realized something. The new Windows Anytime Upgrade and electronic distribution through Windows Marketplace are the best things for Vista in a while. The problem is that these two things will forever shroud Vista numbers in a cloud of uncertainty. Don't believe me? Let me explain:

    1. This has already been covered a little bit, but because of the new electronic distribution model, the retail sales numbers can't really be trusted. We have to wait for Microsoft to report them before we can get a complete picture... and for a company pitching clarity as an OS feature, they sure aren't offering
    2. The real issue is this: Anytime Upgrade lets any copy of Vista change its colors at any time. Even Home Basic sales are opportunities for future upselling. Each upgrade is almost pure revenue for Microsoft, which they may or may not break out their numbers, you never know. But it means that it'll be a LOT more difficult to know how many copies of each edition are out in the marketplace at any given time. To be honest with you, with the trouble they've been having with their fulfillment system (between the Express Upgrade, Anytime Upgrade, and Family Discount), I'm not entirely sure they even have a handle on their own numbers.

    That's just my opinion, what do yo guys think?

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  • My Suggestion for a Vista Sidebar Gadget

    Yesterday I blogged about the Code Project Vista Gadget contest. I've been needing a Sidebar Gadget for some time, but I don't have the free time to learn how to build it. It's a good opportunity for anyone that knows enough about Gadgets to possibly win some cool prizes, so here's a need I think can be filled by a smart Gadget developer.

    I use Remote Desktop a LOT. Between all of the virtual and physical machines that I manage, I have a bunch of saved RDP profiles on my desktop. Unfortunately, the RDP Gadgets out there are either a) ugly, or b) don't work off of saved .rdp files. So I've worked out the specs for how this Gadget should work:

    • AFAIK, it's difficult to get a Gadget to have a variable size, so put a high-quality version of the RDP icon as the main part of the Gadget, and have the details as a flyout.
    • The settings page should only have one setting: the folder that contains the .rdp files to make shortcuts for. Optionally, it might be nice to be able to select the RDP shortcut icon size.
    • To keep things simple, allow users to "group" RDP files by putting them in subfolders. Any subfolder of the target folder should be considered a "group", and the RDP files underneath should be displayed underneath the group label. Ideally, the groups would be form and function identical to groups in the "Network & Sharing Center"
    • Clicking on the RDP file should execute the specified connection.

    It's not a flashy Gadget, I know... but It would be really useful for me. It would let me clean at least 10 RDP shortcuts off of my desktop. Might be of benefit to other sysadmins too. If someone decides to make it, please let me know, I'd like to test it before it's released.

    Thanks!

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  • Hell Freezes Over: Gates and Jobs to Appear Together

    Forget global warming, the next Ice Age is here. From PrimeNewswire:

    NEW YORK, Feb. 20, 2007 (PRIME NEWSWIRE) (PRIMEZONE) -- Apple, Inc. CEO Steve Jobs and Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates, the seminal figures in the development of the personal computer, will make a rare joint appearance at The Wall Street Journal's "D: All Things Digital" conference this year. The two men will jointly discuss the history and future of the digital revolution in an unrehearsed, unscripted, onstage conversation on May 30 with D co-producers Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher.

    Both executives have made multiple individual appearances at the conference, which will celebrate its fifth anniversary this year, and is known as D5. But this will be their first joint session at D, and a highly unusual event.

    In addition to participating in the joint session with Mr. Gates, Mr. Jobs will appear on his own in a separate segment at D5 to discuss the latest developments at Apple, including new ventures such as the iPhone and Apple TV. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will also appear at the conference in his own segment, to discuss Windows, Office, the Xbox, Zune, and other topics.

    With Jobs being unable as of late to make a public appearance without taking a swipe at Microsoft, this guarantees to be an interesting event. No word if Jobs and Gates will do a live version of the "Mac vs PC" ads, however with Jobs in his trademark black turtleneck and Gates in an his blue button-up shirt, it'll be hard to keep from daydreaming.

    Pass the jackets.

    UPDATE: A reader from CrunchGear posted this YouTube video of what might transpire. Featuring the voice talents of Kermit the Frog as Bill Gates.

    [YouTube:qHO8l-Bd1O4]

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  • The Vista Daily #11

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    Today's "Vista Daily" is the "Getting Over Pink Eye Edition". Yesterday was not a lot of fun, but today's a better day.

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  • Weekend Site Improvements

    I took a little time this weekend and started a series of improvements to the site. One of the reasons the site has been running slow lately is because I was incorrectly redirecting the traffic from the old LonghornBlogs.com URLs into the new site. I whipped up a quick .NET module to redirect to the proper URL and issue a 301 redirect, so that should no longer be an issue.

    Second, we've been getting a significant number of hits for blogs that are no longer being updated. So I started redirecting them to a message showing that certain blogs are no longer active. It's a static file that doesn't make a database call, so that picked things up a bit too.

    Third, I re-enabled HTTP Compression on the site, so even though the server is still be bit too bogged down at the moment, the content should still download a fair amount quicker than before. It reduced the downstream transfer by 80%, making pages load 5x faster on average.

    Fourth, I encountered an error in my Community Server installation that was pointing to legacy stylesheets, even though I've changed the skin. It was adding 3 failed requests to each page view, and when the site gets 100,000 page views a day, that adds up quickly.

    I have one more item on the to-do list. A while back I deleted a lot of blank blogs on the site. For some reason, some people are subscribed to the RSS feeds for those blogs, even though they were empty. So I'm working on a module that will intercept those feed requests and map them to the inactive blog message I set up, instead of throwing an expensive exception and then redirecting to an error page. That should also close the aggregator's connections to the server, which apparently doesn't happen when Community Server throws a feed error.

    Finally, fairly soon I hope to be moving to better servers, with more memory and SATA drives. That should speed things up considerably. Anyway, thanks for sticking around. I'll be re-enabling anonymous comments shortly.

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  • Solution for Updating the BIOS on Windows Vista x64 Machines

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    As I blogged about the other day, one of the biggest frustrations I've had with Vista x6 has been with updating the BIOS on my Ferrari 5000. BIOS providers haven't realized that BIOS upgrades happen on 64-bit machines too, and have apparently been in a a hole for the last 5 years. I tried a whole bunch of things, including downloading 3 separate DOS-based flashers by Phoenix Technologies. When my Windows 98-based USB boot keys didn't work, I knew I'd have to bring out the big guns.

    So here, for your reading enjoyment, is the Definitive Guide to creating a Windows Vista Bootable USB Key. You'll need a key with a minimum of 256MB to make this happen.

    1. Download and install the Windows Automated Installation Kit.
    2. If the key is not already formatted FAT32, then do so.
    3. Copy everything in the "C:\Program Files\Windows AIK\Tools\PETools\x86" directory (except for the "EFI" folder, ESPECIALLY if you only have a 256MB key) to the root of the key. This is IMPORTANT. "bootmgr" must be in the root, and "boot" muse be a 1st level folder.
    4. Open an Administrative command prompt, navigate to the USB key, and run "bootsect /nt60 X:", where X is the letter of the USB key. This will initialize the Vista boot loader on the USB key.
    5. Create a folder on the USB key for the 32-bit Windows-based flash utility, and copy all the BIOS files to it.
    6. Make sure there is at least 64MB of free space left on the key. If there is not, redo steps 2-5 on a bigger key.
    7. Reboot your computer to the BIOS settings menu and adjust the settings so you can boot to the USB key.
    8. Reboot again, and select the USB key as your boot device.
    9. After several minutes, you'll be presented with the Aurora background and a command prompt. Drive X is the WinPE environment. Your USB key will be the next in line after your hard drives and DVD, respectively. Navigate to the Windows flashing executable, and run it.

    If you have a bigger key, you can add other utilities to it, as long as they are stand-alone apps. I'm still working on an easy tutorial for installing a full-fledged copy of Vista to a microdrive. More on that later.

    Anyway, there you have it. Now you have a 32-bit solution for BIOS updates on 64-bit machines. Thanks to MSFN.org for the basic instructions that led me on the right track.

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