Robert McLaws: Windows Edition

Blogging about Windows since before Vista became a bad word

November 2007 - Posts

  • XP SP3: The Problem With Benchmarking Beta Software

    A lot of people lately are making a big deal about a recent report that Windows XP SP3 has a greater performance improvement over XP SP2 than Vista SP1 has over Vista RTM. Now, the AP has gotten their hands on the story, providing the masses with a vapid and misleading summary of the "facts". Personally, I think focusing on it at this point is a really bad idea, for seven reasons:

    1. With Windows, It's Beta Code, Even If It Says "Release Candidate"
    Historically, Microsoft doesn't tighten the screws on Windows until VERY late in the game. In July of last year, I posted that I thought Microsoft needed to delay Vista and add another short beta to the cycle. It caused a lot of stir, and generated some great discussions. A month later, the Release Candidate builds changed my tune. The thing is, there is still a bunch of debug and instrumentation code in the current SP1 builds that will not be there in the final release. It was true with Vista then, and it's true with Vista now. So you can't necessarily judge performance based on that, because the final builds won't have all that extra instrumentation in there, which will lower overhead and boost performance.

    Furthermore, with Windows, a Release Candidate doesn't really mean "we think we'll ship this particular build unless something bad happens," it just means "we're almost done, and this is close to what you can expect." There will still be changes between Vista SP1 RC1 and Vista SP1's release. So benchmarking right now is kind of pointless, and quite a bit irresponsible.

    2. The First Service Pack is About Reliability, Not Performance
    As I recall, XPSP1 didn't feature any terribly big performance gains, it was all about fixing the stuff they didn't have time to fix before they shipped. Vista SP1 is mostly the same way, but has the added benefit of receiving the improvements from the Windows Server team as well, hence the networking improvements. (Both Vista SP1 and Windows Server 2008 carry the same version numbers on their binaries).

    3. XP SP2 was Longhorn Minus WinFX
    Microsoft has a roadmap for Windows years before they actually know what's going to be in it. Originally, Longhorn was supposed to be a minor point release to Windows XP, bigger than a service pack but smaller than a major release. (XP SP2 should have really been XP R2, but that's beside the point). After the MSBlaster virus, Microsoft decided to pull a bunch of the stuff they had planned for Longhorn (Security Center, Firewall, DEP, etc) down into XP to get people safe on a shorter timeframe. So Microsoft had the opportunity to have Windows XP benefit from the work they were doing on Longhorn, which is one of the reasons why it is so stable now, and SP3 will make XP even more so.

    4. XP SP3 Derives From lessons Learned With Vista
    The latest Service Pack for XP obviously gets some of the benefits of the lessons learned with Vista. There are better compilers, better code metrics, better techniques, and so forth. XP also has fewer things that need to load into memory, and a smaller codebase. While those may sound like pluses, XP also doesn't have the Error Reporting, Problem and Solutions checker, or depth of Performance and Reliability monitoring of Vista, so they're really not. Microsoft can't use the error reports to improve XP quite like they can with Vista.

    5. Windows XP Has Matured Already
    Any operating system that has had 6 years of development is going to get more robust over time. This service pack is the end of the line for XP, so of course they're going to squeeze every last ounce out of it they can. If it's already as stable as it's going to get, what else are you going to focus on?

    6. Vista SP1 Focuses On Performance Improvements I Care About
    Personally, I could really give a rats ass if Vista SP1 makes Office 2007 start 30 microseconds faster. In my daily life, I have to move a lot of files around my network. I stream stuff from my Media Center, I download files off of MSDN, I buy TV shows from Amazon Unbox. I love the fact that Microsoft has improved network and SATA throughput in SP1. My disk-to-disk transfers on the same machine consistently hit 30-40MB a second, and transfers between machines hit 15-25MB/sec on my gigabit LAN. The fact that copying a Virtual Machine from one box to another went down from 90 minutes to 20 saves me a crapload of time, and therefore has a direct effect on my bottom line. That's a far more tangible benefit than my Office documents opening sooner.

    7. 80& of the Human Population Still Does Not Have a Computer
    Many people are freaking out by saying that XPSP3 is going to hurt Vista sales, and I think that anyone that thinks that needs to remove the blinders they have on. There are 6 BILLION + people on the planet, and a little over a billion computers out there. Microsoft is still a gi-normous company, and 80% of their market is un/under-served. Continuing to refine older products to benefit existing users is not going to hurt a company that has a LONG way to go before each person has a computer.

    So I disagree with just about everyone that thinks it's a big deal. It's really not, and I hope this provides some context. And XP SP3 is not a huge mistake, it's just good business.

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  • Why Isn't the Halo 3 Soundtrack on Zune Marketplace?

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    So the new Halo 3 soundtrack came out over a week ago, and I've been really excited to hear it. I wanted to buy it on Zune Marketplace, and it shows up under the search, but you can't buy it. Hey Microsoft, what gives? Having the soundtrack up there is like a no-brainer, especially given the fact that you have a Halo 3 Zune that comes preloaded with the soundtracks for 1 and 2. Where is the love, guys?

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  • Having Zune Power Issues?

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    If you've just upgraded your Zune 30 to the new firmware, have you found that your battery isn't lasting nearly as long? Zune-Online.com has the answer. Turn on the WiFi, crank up the screen brightness, and turn on the radio until the battery dies. Then fully recharge it (overnight if you have to), and then reboot it by holding up and back at the same time until it resets. After that, you'll be good to go.

    [via Engadget]

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  • Free Office Mobile Upgrade for Windows Mobile Users

    If you're a Windows Mobile 5 or 6 user, listen up! Microsoft just posted a free download that will upgrade your Office Mobile applications to version 6.1. This version includes:

    • Office 2007 File Format Support
    • Enhanced viewing experience for charts in Excel Mobile.
    • Ability to view SmartArt in PowerPoint Mobile.
    • Ability to view and extract files from compressed (.zip) folders.

    I don't even think that WM5 users had a free upgrade to Office Mobile 6 before, so this is pretty cool. I've downloaded it to my WM5 phone, and installation was painless. Enjoy!

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  • PSA: Gamers, Watch Your Freakin Mouths!

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    WARNING: The audio in the linked video is NSFW.

    I just came across this post on Joystiq about the problem of trash talk on Xbox Live. Well, the "trash" part is a real understatement. I have a gay stepbrother, and I find it extremely offensive.

    Now, I'm not going to say that video games themselves are responsible for this kind of behavior (although I'm sure other news outlets will), but I've encountered some extremely offensive language against black people and Hispanics gaming in Halo 3 as well. I try to make it a point to report anyone being too abusive, both with negative feedback to their profile and a report to Xbox Live.

    Come on guys. Seriously, you can have fun without being an a$$hole. It IS possible, as far-fetched as it might sound.

    And while I'm at it, Microsoft needs to do a better job educating parents about Parental Controls on Xbox Live. 3 of the 4 people in the Fox interview had no idea it even had Parental Controls. Time to whip out those marketing dollars and put up some ads on MSNBC.com (or some parenting websites, or whatever) about them.

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  • Back Online - Now Powered By WS2008 with Hyper-V

    Well, this weekend was a busy one. I just finished a marathon run (that took a few hours longer than expected), moving Interscape's hosting environment off of a Windows Server 2003/Virtual Server-based setup, and onto our own private rack with new AMD servers and the Windows Server 2008 November CTP. The website is still being hosted off of WS2003 for the next few days, while I get the IIS7 web servers ready, but my entire network is now fully virtualized on Microsoft's new Hyper-V technology. I've had some interesting experiences getting that going, and I hope to be able to blog about it in the next few days.

    You should see speed improve over the next couple days as I get all the kinks ironed out, but if you run into any hiccups, please let me know. Thanks!

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  • Yes, About That Windows Early Feedback List

    Lots of people are talking about a list that Neowin.net leaked over the weekend about beta tester feature requests for future version of Windows. Some people have attributed this list to a bunch of different things, so let me take a minute and clear the air.

    The list is from a Microsoft Connect program called the Windows Early Feedback program. It is set up for existing Windows Beta Testers to make feature requests for consideration in future versions of Windows (and not necessarily just "Seven"). While reports are correct that Microsoft is "not obligated to include them in future releases," that does not under any circumstances mean that the list is not watched or items are not considered. All it means is that the Windows Beta team cannot promise that the features will be included anywhere (especially since some, like backing up Xbox 360 games to a PC, don't have a prayer of ever happening), but I have it on good authority that the list does get seen by the various Windows teams.

    So when an anonymous Microsoft source says the list "bear(s) no relationship to the actual feature set Microsoft is currently writing for Windows 7," I think what they means was something more along the lines of "you should not consider this to be a list of features in Windows 7. The WEF list is simply a customer guideline, and is not representative of the state of our internal planning documents." I don't think it should be interpreted as though the team doesn't care what customers think or that the list won't be considered by the various decision makers.

    Windows Vista was the most customer-driven Windows release ever. It's is pretty safe to say that the Windows Division is more in-tune with their customers than ever before. The fact that they even asked for feedback this early in the planning stages is a HUGE step forward for Microsoft. In previous betas, they did their planning based on their own priorities, and didn't care much what the customers thought. At least now they're listening, and they shouldn't be knocked for it.

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  • New Vista Media Center Extender Site, Ready for Preorders

    As I posted earlier, the holiday season is in full force for Microsoft. I'm not sure when they put this up, but there's now new information about the V2 Media Center Extenders online.

    Also, Windows Guru Ed Bott has some great information on pre-ordering yours now [via Chris Lanier], for those of you like me who are itching to get their hands on one.

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  • Windows Vista Home Page Updated

    Microsoft is gearing up for the holiday season with a whole new Windows Vista marketing push.

    I'm not sure when this new home page went live, but it's a bit more interactive than it used to be. IMO it could still be a lot more interactive, and should be using Silverlight. And it should be doing a better job connecting with the consumer on an emotional level when they explain why it it better. But hey, it's an improvement.

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  • Eolas Lets Microsoft Fix ActiveX Headache

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    Last year, Microsoft was forced to add one of the worst features ever to IE because of the Eolas patent dispute. Well, now that Microsoft has settled that dispute, they're taking the feature completely out of the product, according to a post from the IE blog.

    I really glad that cooler heads prevailed on this one. That feature made web pages far less usable, and was just an all around PITA. Come Vista SP1 or the April 2008 Cumulative Update, we can finally begin conserving mouse clicks, one of our most important natural resources.

    [via All about Microsoft]

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  • My HD-DVD Experience and Impressions on the Format War

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    For the last couple weeks, Buy.com has had an absolutely smokin' deal on the Xbox 360 HD-DVD Drive. IMO, it's a better deal than the $100 players from Best Buy. For $170, you get the drive (which comes with King Kong in the box), plus Heroes Season 1 on HD-DVD (which retails by itself for $70). On top of all of that, Microsoft and Toshiba have switched up their 5 Free HD-DVD collection with a much better selection of movies. So you get a drive plus 12 HD-DVD discs for the same price as the drive itself used to be. It was a deal that I just couldn't pass up. The package came on Tuesday, and I've been having a great time getting my home theatre set up the way I want, and enjoying my new HD-DVDs.

    So then I found out that, while Blockbuster has been a huge Blu-Ray supporter, they still have a pretty serious collection of HD-DVDs in their "Total Access" program. Unfortunately, you'd never know it, because the site hardly says anything about it, and it's buried under the "Collections" menu item. But I cleared out my queue and loaded it up with a bunch of movies that I already love that I can't wait to see in hi-def.

    Then yesterday I came across this website explaining what HD-DVD is to the consumer. Microsoft built and owns the site, which I found to be very interesting. They have a huge stake in the HD-DVD war for reasons other than the Xbox 360. For example, I found out here that Microsoft is building a reference player that uses Windows CE6 to enable a simpler platform. Microsoft also designed the HDi standard, and this page explains how it works, and links to sample code. There is some interesting content on the site, but I definitely have some issues with it.

    So I think that Microsoft's attempt to engage the consumer this way is a good thing overrall, but this site needs a LOT of work. For starters, why isn't the whole thing done in Silverlight? You're talking about high-definition and high-interactivity, but the site is about as interactive as a post. They should be using tons of eye-candy to blow people out of the water on how cool HD-DVD is. And Microsoft has a whitepaper on the home page that talks about why they support HD-DVD.... it's one of the most boring whitepapers I've ever seen... and I've read a lot of whitepapers. If they expect a consumer to read that document, they're totally nuts.

    If this site is targeted at consumers, Microsoft needs to step it up a notch. If it's targeted at content providers, they could still do a much better job explaining the business case for why the HD-DVD experience is just better.

    However, having said that, I think that HD-DVD has hit the sweet spot when it comes to price point, and that the holidays will be a turning point for the format. So far, my experience with it has been nothing short of fantastic, and I can't wait to build out my collection. Hopefully all of the other 90,000 people that bought HD-DVD drives last week will go out and buy a bunch of movies on the format, so that the studios will capitulate and put movies like Spiderman 3 on HD-DVD too.

    BTW, I think it's funny that in the face of HD-DVD's overwhelming week, that Sony CEO Howard Stringer just today called the format war a "stalemate", and "a difficult fight." I wonder how long they'll hold out before they're forced to concede defeat. And I wonder what a Blu-Ray defeat will do to the PS3. We'll see come February, after everyone has cashed in their holiday gift cards. Maybe soon the studios will start supporting both formats... then the consumer will truly "win".

    Why I Think HD-DVD Will Win:

    • Better player price point
    • Better product bundles
    • Better title pricing
    • Better format protection (HD-DVD/DVD combo discs, like ST:TOS Season 1)
    • Better overall experience
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  • WGA Helps Stop Terrorism

    Whatever your feelings about the war, Islamic extremism, etc, the global climate of conflict affects us all. I was reading an article on MSNBC questioning whether or not the most recent Bin Laden tape was real or fake, and I cane across a very interesting quote on the second page

    (Evan Kohlmann, the NBC News counter terrorism analyst, says most of the software is probably pirated, that every major jihadi site has a download section filled with software from companies as big as Microsoft or Adobe.)

    So you see, when you buy legitimate software (and use Windows Genuine Advantage), you're not just keeping Microsoft financially solvent. You're helping to fight religious extremism. And isn't that good for everyone?

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  • Mounting WIM Images from Windows Explorer

    Over the course of my Windows Server 2008 testing, I've had to do a fair amount of work with WIM files. The problem is, that works comes in fits and starts, and I really hate having to keep looking up the syntax for mounting WIM images using ImageX.

    This morning, I was preparing to move my web hosting environment yet again, which means I have to build new ISOs with my unattended settings files yet again. So I decided to make life a little bit easier. I'll let the picture explain what it does, then I'll explain what you need to do.

    The solution is a pair of registry files, one for x86 and one for x64, that create an File Association for WIM files, and adds Context Menu options to replace the process of using ImageX at the command line, and having to remember what order to specify which arguments to pass.

    Limitations:

    • The first image in the WIM file is always used. If you have more than one image per WIM file, you'll still have to use the command-line.
    • The mount path is hard-coded as C:\mounted_wim. You must create a folder there to mount your WIM images. The alternative is to modify the registry files to point to your own custom location.
    • You may need to restart your computer before the icon for the WIM file shows up.

    The Files:

    That's about it. I've tested it on both platforms, and everything seems to work alright. If you have any problems, post them here.

    HTH

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  • Running x86 and x64 Web Apps Side-by-Side on IIS7

    Rakki Muthukumar is a Microsoft Developer Support Engineer for ASP.NET and IIS7. If you haven't seen his blog, he has a bunch of really great tips about IIS7. This one in particular explain how to run 32-bit and 64-bit applications on the same IIS7 box, but in different worker processes. This was not possible in IIS6, so it's a welcome change for developers looking to run legacy 32-bit apps while upgrading their projects to 64-bit.

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  • Windows Home Server 120-Day Eval Now Available

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    For those of you looking to try out Windows Home Server, but have been left out in the cold by it's exclusion from MSDN, now have an answer. The Windows Home Server 120-Day Evaluation is now live and ready to be ordered. Costs $5.99 for delivery in the US, and your order will be filled in 1-3 weeks.

    It can also be ordered from these countries: (with direct order links)

    United States
    Canada
    Europe, the Middle East, and Africa

    Asia Pacific Countries
    Australia
    New Zealand
    Singapore
    Malaysia
    Philippines
    Indonesia
    Thailand
    India
    Vietnam
    Hong Kong
    Taiwan
    China
    Korea

    I've been running the RTM version for about a week now, and I'll blog about my experiences shortly.

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