Robert McLaws: Windows Edition

Blogging about Windows since before Vista became a bad word

February 2008 - Posts

  • Windows Vista Is About To Get Cheaper

    Looks like I'm the first one to catch this. Microsoft put up a Q&A on PressPass with Brad Brooks. He's the CVP of Windows Consumer Product marketing, and he announced that Microsoft is dropping the price of retail-packaged product (RPP) versions of Windows Vista when the SP1 version hits the shelves in a few weeks. From the interview:

    PressPass: What did you announce today?

    Brooks: Today we announced a variety of price reductions for copies of Windows Vista sold on retail shelves. In developed markets, the price changes will most notably impact upgrade retail versions of the new editions we introduced in 2007 -- Windows Vista Home Premium and Ultimate editions. In emerging markets, we are combining full and upgrade Home Basic and Home Premium versions into full versions of these editions and instituting price changes to meet the demand we see among first-time Windows customers who want more functionality than is available in current Windows XP editions. In addition, we are also adjusting pricing on Windows Vista Ultimate in emerging markets to be comparable to price changes developed market customers will see.

    These price changes will take effect globally with the retail release of Windows Vista Service Pack 1 later this year, though some markets will see reduced prices sooner as a result of promotions many of our partners already are driving, such as Amazon.com in the United States.

    Hopefully soon Microsoft will detail exactly what these changes will be. Maybe Long will dig up a pricing sheet from Microsoft France or something.  UPDATE: Ina fried at News.com has the details. Windows Vista Ultimate drops 27% from $299 to $219, and Home Premium drops 19% from $159 to $129. I think this is great news, and will make Vista a bit more accessible. It also makes Vista Home Premium the same price as Apple's OSX 10.5, which might explain that particular price point.

    For more, read the whole release.

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  • Microsoft Surface: Meet The New Arcade Table

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    When I saw Microsoft Surface for the first time, it very much reminded me of this old standby from my youth: the arcade table. The resemblance is uncanny. Besides the purposes that have already been shown, I think Surface has a lot of potential for interactive gambling in casinos, as well as an innovative way to enable Family Game Night in the home. Think about it. Hasbro could sell Surface-enabled versions of Monopoly™, Battleship™, and Life™... and instead of the board, there would be custom RFID game pieces, and the software could reside on an inexpensive USB key.

    Well, that vision just jumped one step closer to reality. Joystiq has a video of the first videogame for Surface: Firefly. It's a simple enough game where you use your fingers to guide the flies into glass jars. It's built by Carbonated Games, the company that has a very large presence on MSN Games and the Xbox 360 Arcade. Could a Surface-enabled version of Halo Wars be far behind? One can only hope.

    Coupled with Steve Ballmer's revelation that Microsoft has had "...more pushback to get a consumer version of the Surface than you can shake a stick at," I'm very hopeful that I might be able to make one of these my coffee table in the not-too-distant future.

    And this time, I might not even need to worry about quarters.

    [YouTube:JFapI4PxL9Q]

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  • The EU Continues Its Socialist Campaign Against Microsoft

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    You know, this whole EU fine thing is really pissing me off. It sure seems to me that the EU has found their cash cow to fund their entire operation, and they're doing so by fining an American company. All told, Microsoft has been fined 1.6B Euros, which could fund their entire "Clean Sky" project through 2013. Is this how governments raise money? It's not a fine, it's a competition tax, and its ridiculous.

    How is this in any way appropriate? As Mary Jo said, they never proved that European consumers were harmed, just competitors. Since when did a free market say that the leader is required to give competitors the tools to build better competing products? I thought that they only had a responsibility to not inhibit interoperability? That sure smells like Socialism to me...

    I think Microsoft should fight it. The American court system doesn't allow for Double Jeopardy, and they shouldn't stand for getting fined twice for the same offense.

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  • Windows Mobile Sells 3.5x More Units Than iPhone

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    While Apple still deludes itself into thinking that it's going to sell 20% more iPhones in its second 6 months than it did in it's first, Windows Mobile outsold the iPhone by 3.5-to-1. But you wouldn't know it by reading the tech press, as usual. I guess it's good to be the quiet leader.

    [via Nathan Weinburg]

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  • Wired's Vista "Do's" Have Some Major "Don'ts"

    Wired has an article up about how to speed up Vista. While they have a couple OK tips in there, there are a couple of suggestions that caught my attention as colossally BAD. I tried to edit the wiki page to reflect this, but I was rebuffed by the original author. So much for community contributions.

    1. DO NOT under *any* circumstances, shut off Windows Error Reporting. How do you think Microsoft knows what to fix in the Service Packs? Microsoft doesn't collect personal info with these reports, so what are you worried about?
    2. DO NOT use vLite, despite it's perceived appeal. Look guys, there are *thousands* of people at Microsoft who helped engineer Windows, including the new dependency engine that manages the Setup process. Do you seriously trust ONE GUY to understand enough of all that to be able to delete files safely without affecting anything else? Using this program will make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to install SP1, PLUS it needs to be run to make a custom install of Vista, so it won't help anyone after the fact. Even so... seriously, you mean to tell me you can't spare 6GB on your hard drive?
    3. YOU DON'T NEED TO manually defragment. Vista's defragmenter, though seemingly hobbled, is actually quite good. Vista has a new "prioritized I/O" system that pauses lower-priority operations (like defragmenting) for higher-priority operations (like saving Word documents). Even if it runs while you're working, you shouldn't really notice it too much. And while the author will tout the usefulness of a visual UI showing what's going on, that actually DOES take up processor time, and will slow down the defrag. You're better off without it.
    4. YOU REALLY SHOULDN'T shut off Aero if your graphics card is capable of it. Aero at it's core moves desktop drawing off of the CPU and onto the GPU. Even if you don't want the transparencies of Glass (you can turn those off), unless you're on a laptop trying to conserve battery life, you should let Aero do it's thing.

    Maybe next time, Wired will get someone who has actually used Vista, instead of regurgitating XP tips, to write their tuning tips. Just a thought.

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  • Mitigating BitLocker "Cold DRAM" Attacks

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    Troy Arwine of the Microsoft "'Stay Safe' Cyber Security Blog" put up a very detailed post over the weekend that discussed the details of mitigating the "Cold DRAM" BitUnlocker attack that was published by Princeton University. It basically involves using a PIN during boot, and substituting "Sleep" mode for Hibernating. If you're using BitLocker and concerned about this attack vector, check out the post.

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  • The Vista Reality Distortion Field Continues

    In my last post, I mentioned that Ed Bott was one of the last remaining tech journalists that really uses his expertise to dig into the truth. Well, today he fired off his own salvo in the fight against the Vista RDF, this time comparing "Save XP" InfoWorld writer Randal Kennedy's journalistic Alzheimers when it comes to new OS releases:

    ...Back in 2001, Kennedy and InfoWorld were bashing XP and recommending that their readers stay with Windows 2000. Today, they’re bashing Vista and hawking their “save XP” campaign. But judging by the progression that XP made in six years, all that the Windows Vista architecture needs is time and a hardware replacement cycle or two.

    And we’ll be able to read all about in InfoWorld’s “Save Vista” campaign.

    I wish I had been covering Windows XP through its development and launch, cause then I could have recycled all of my old XP posts when Vista launched, just like Randal & Co. Could have saved me a lot of time. No worries though, I'll just look forward to seeing what Mr. Kennedy has to say about Vista when Windows "7" comes out. Maybe by then he will have realized that Vista was a decent OS after all.

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  • Vista Perceptions Not Matching Reality?

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    Lloyd Ketchum from Liberating Technologies (a Microsoft partner) continues a debate that has been quietly gaining momentum the last couple weeks. In his words:

    What in H.E. Double-Hockey-Sticks are people doing that has caused so many to have so much trouble running Windows Vista?

    ...

    I just can't believe that we are simply lucky and for some odd reason that we cannot explain, our Windows Vista experiences have been so much better than what the online experts have shared. It's just too easy to verify things and Vista simply has too many instrumentation tools available to it for issues and questions to persist.

    I trust what I see and what I see is a good Vista. I no longer trust our industry's experts - not because I disagree with them, but because I do not see any evidence of their use of expert tools. There is nothing to base trust upon and one "Snark Attack" after another, does not evidence make.

    Lloyd, I have absolutely no idea either. Neither does John Obeto, who had an answer to Chris Pirillo's overly-emotional puff piece extolling the virtues of OSX over Windows. I think Chris is a great guy, and a good friend of mine... but I unsubscribed from him a long time ago. He hasn't had anything valuable to say about Windows in quite a while, which is unfortunate. He's a brilliant guy with a maddening attention to detail. But he started giving up on Windows the second I showed him the first Longhorn builds back in 2004. He's so OCD over nit-picky stuff like icon alignment that he misses the underlying beauty of how Windows Rally helps make wireless configuration easier, or the coolness of using Windows Media Center as the home's connected entertainment hub.

    But Chris is not the only one. The problem is, I have run into a lot of everyday people that have negative opinions about Vista. It's hard to tell if these people's opinions are based on reading pundits who have turned their backs on Windows, or if they tried to upgrade an already overbloated and underpowered machine, or their OEM didn't pay attention to the end user's experience with their hardware.

    I think the real reason is the changes that came with UAC, and the staggering lack of training from Microsoft built into the product on how deep that impact was. I remember the first time I installed Windows ME (to this day I think I am the only one that liked that OS) and how it forced you to sit through an intro video, and then explore some training before diving in.

    With the changes in UAC, that video should have been mandatory once again. It should have explained how the threats online have changed, and how Microsoft made some painful changes that in the end would make them safer. It should have explained what happened when you saw one, and how, while annoying, the feature was there to protect people from themselves. And I'm really surprised that Video Professor and the like haven't stepped up with commercials specifically targeting cheap Vista training for the average user.

    But I digress. This article on whether or not XP SP3 will slow Vista adoption is just another example of the seemingly concerted effort on the part of the media to create FUD about Vista. The article starts out by creating this air that Vista has a real problem, and in classic tech media fashion, waits until Page 2 to throw this quote at you:

    Also, NPD's U.S. commercial point-of-sale data, a database containing sales feeds from value added resellers, shows that 40 percent of Windows PCs sold to businesses now ship with Vista, while the other 60 percent still ship with XP. But that mirrors the pattern seen after the release of other new operating systems, he said.

    "While the Vista percentage may seem low, it is very similar to the trend we saw after the XP launch. Businesses have historically taken their time with new operating system rollouts, and the trend we're seeing with Vista is very much in line with previous trends," Swenson said.

    Oh, so everything is really ok, following normal upgrade patterns over the last couple decades of computing, but if you hadn't taken the time to read the whole article, you wouldn't have known that.

    In a followup, Lloyd calls Windows Journalism Snark-Infested Waters, and I agree. There are plenty of Windows enthusiast websites out there (I would LOVE to name names but I'm not gonna) that value wit over substance (and a rare few that can deftly pull off both). Now, I'm not saying Windows sites should be towing the Microsoft party line... but most have stretched well beyond constructive criticism and into the realm of Snarking for Dollars. There are too few journalists out there who really dig deep into the truth from a technical perspective (Ed Bott is the one who really stands out in my mind), and that is sad.

    it's hard not to sound like a conspiracy theorist when I say this, but I think there is a concerted anti-Microsoft effort within the tech community, and it has crept up past the religious zealots and into the people that cover them. Which sucks. because if they took a step back, and took a look at Vista for what it was, they would see a flawed human creation (arent all human creations flawed in some way or another?) that is head and shoulders better than its predecessor.

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  • Oh Yeah, Google's Sh!t Doesn't Stink

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    When asked about the Yahoo-Microsoft takeover today, Google's Sergey Brin had this to say:

    The Internet has evolved from open standards, having a diversity of companies. ... And when you start to have companies that control the operating system, control the browsers, they really tie up the top Web sites, and can be used to manipulate stuff in various ways. I think that's unnerving.

    Of course man... because indexing all of an individual's personal communications, medical records, and web browsing history, all to serve them the most relevant ads, isn't unnerving either. And like you don't currently "tie-up" the top sites already.

    Pot to kettle: "You're black".

    [via Todd Bishop]

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  • Windows Vista SP1 Broken Compatibility List Surprisingly Small

    Microsoft recently posted a Knowledge Base article about programs that are affected by Windows Vista SP1. I was extremely surprised to see that the list was so small, and with the exception of a couple programs, were almost entirely limited to security software vendors. Kudos to Microsoft, and hopefully this list stays small after SP1 gains wider release.

    [via Bink]

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  • XNA Games Coming to Zune, Live & Live Marketplace Next?

    At their GDC '08 Keynote, Microsoft showed off Zauri, a "top-down shooter" built using XNA Game Studio... running on a Zune 2. Microsoft's Chris Satchell did the demo, and he said that games would be portable across the Microsoft entertainment ecosystem, "from Windows to Xbox to Zune."

    This is fantastic news, even though it is REALLY short on details. Hopefully it is only the beginning of the cross-platform Live news. I'm eagerly awating the day when Microsoft announces the Live Marketplace plugin for Windows Media Center, and I can either transfer Live Marketplace movies from my Xbox 360 to my Zune, or use the wireless functionality of my Zune to buy and download movies without having to hook up to my PC.

    UPDATE: I've gleaned a bit more information from the blogosphere. Neil Hutson just posted a roadmap and overall featureset. It seems that this capability will come with the next version of XNA Game Studio (3.0) which will be previewed this April for RTM in the Fall. Other expectations:

    • Local ad-hoc wireless play with up to 8 Zunes
    • User can customize in-game music from whatever is on the Zune
    • Write-once, run anywhere... but cross-platform multiplayer is not supported (Zune users can't connect to Xbox 360 sessions, etc)

    UPDATE 2: Dave "LetsKillDave" Weller has updated the XNA Creators Club site with an overview of the changes, and has also written a FAQ diving deeper into what to expect.

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  • Windows Server 2008 On the Desktop

    My recent server issues notwithstanding, I am totally in love with Windows Server 2008. I think it is the best Server OS that Microsoft has ever released. It may very well be the best Server OS on the market today.

    I've been thinking about dual-booting between Vista SP1 and WS2008 on my laptop. I wouldn't have to, but there aren't Hyper-V Integration Components for Windows Vista SP1 yet (which isn't entirely accurate, because the IC files say they support it, but the installer doesn't), and the Server version, though it has the Desktop Experience, does not have any media features (WMC, WMM, etc).

    So Vijayshinva Karnure of Microsoft India posted the 10 steps necessary to turn Windows Server 2008 into a great workstation OS. it's very handy, especially if you want your experience to be a little more visually appealing.

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  • Windows Vista SP1 Performance - The Real First Look

    Earlier this week, Microsoft officially announced that they have finished Windows Vista SP1 and released it to manufacturing (RTM). Unfortunately, it's not going to be released to the web (RTW) for another 30 days, save for the 15,000 or so testers that are lucky enough to have the RTM bits (AKA SP1 RC Refresh 2).

    Just before all my server BS went down, I ran a bunch of benchmark tests on my local systems running Refresh 2. Since the code is finished, and some of the bits are out in the wild, I thought it would be a good time to talk performance in SP1, with some real-world results. And I have very good news for you.

    To get started, I uninstalled the SP1 RC Refresh 1 from all of my Vista machines (I currently have 4 at my disposal). After fully-patching the machines, I then downloaded PCMark Vantage, which is a benchmarking program specifically designed for Windows Vista, and ran it against all 4 machines. This gave me a baseline of what the performance would look like on my machines as of today. I then installed the SP1 RC Refresh 2 across them all (which took 1-2 hours per box) and re-ran the benchmarks (which also took 2 hours per box). That gave me a basis for comparison.

    Now, before you start complaining about my methods, let me talk about a couple of important points:

    • Comparison Points: I'd LOVE to have had the time to do re-images of all the machines, and benchmark them against the unpatched RTM build of Windows Vista. Besides the fact that it wasn't practical, the Windows Vista experience has improved quite a bit since then. People aren't going to compare in their heads to the way Vista was a year ago, they're going to compare their computer performance the day before SP1 to the day after. Fully patching the system before doing my baseline benchmark allows for a more real-world comparison.
    • PCMark Vantage: Because this tool was designed to benchmark Windows Vista, I believe it is a LOT more valid than the benchmark that got all the discussion before. It leverages specific features in Windows Vista (Windows Photo Gallery, Windows Contacts, Windows Mail, Windows Media Player) to provide performance metrics that are more meaningful to end users. The only thing that it didn't test was network copying, but Microsoft already has published benchmarks in that area.

    Now, onto the machines. Here are the details on the two that I am able to share benchmark data on:

    Dell XPS 410 (x64)

    Samsung Q1 Ultra (x86)

    The other two machines I can't discuss just yet, but as soon as I am able, I will publish the data. Without going into detail, I can say that the results were comparable, however. But the PCMark links that I've posted show full hardware specs, as well as the individual test results, so feel free to peruse and compare at your leisure, and draw your own conclusions.

    So there you have it folks. While some people are willing to spell doom and gloom for SP1, I think most people will see a decent performance boost in real-world scenarios. For machines like the Q1 Ultra, the boost is much-needed enhancement to the hardware. For beefier machines, you might even get more bang for your buck. The 15% performance boost on the XPS 410 is much better than the 10% boost that XPSP3 has over XPSP2, and not even close to the numbers that Devil Mountain came up with for SP1.

    But remember, take ALL benchmark claims with a grain of salt, because as always, YMMV.

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  • SP1 Won't Be On WU Until Mid-March

    Contrary to rumors going around the web regarding an alleged screencap of an internal Sharepoint site listing the Vista SP1 release date, it's going to be a while before the general population sees SP1. Biplab Paul has the scoop:

    * Mile Stone 1 (Feb 4, 2008): Available to OEM and Retail Channel
    * Mile Stone 2 (Early March 2008): Vista SP1 Volume Licensing Availability
    * Mile Stone 3 (Mid March 2008): Vista SP1 availability through Windows Update/MSDN/TechNet
    * Mile Stone 4 (April 2008): Will be pushed via Automatic Update

    Sorry to dash your hopes guys. I don't think this schedule is gonna change too much. Meanwhile, WaggEd was kind enough to send me the final bits for review, and I'll have some posts about it online shortly.

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  • Back Online (Mostly), And My Hyper-V Nightmare

    Rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.

    Well folks, it's been a pretty crappy 10 days. Late the night of the 27th (of January), I signed into one of my virtual web servers to get a new client site reconfigured. To my horror, the server was completely offline. My datacenter discovered that the hard drive had failed, the first time that had happened to one of my servers in 5 years.

    I was able to get the drive transferred to my working server, and started the process of recovering the data. I didn't have a backup since I had moved to Hyper-V (dumb, yes I am well aware of that), so I had to get the virtual hard drives (VHDs) back. Well, as the drive failed and Hyper-V came crashing to a halt, it removed all traces of the Virtual Machine that hosted all of my client sites. In addition, it deleted the snapshot of the server that runs Windows-Now, hence some of the broken images that are coming up at the moment (more on that shortly).

    The next several days were extremely frustrating, as I learned a very hard lesson about deploying beta software in the wild. For example, in Hyper-V, "snapshots" are completely misleading. They are not full backups of the VHD file, like one might expect. No, instead, they are like hybrid differencing/undo disks... which would be all well and good if the documentation explained that, but it doesn't. The problem with that is, the changes to the VHDs are not committed unless you explicitly do so. So in the event of a catastrophic failure, you're basically screwed, because you think all the changes are on the original VHD, but they're actually split up and hidden away in an AVHD file in some ungodly GUID directory.

    Fortunately, I figured out that you can rename some files and re-merge the hard drives together offline, which saved my butt for a couple of the VHDs. (I'll explain this process in a later post.) A week after the servers went down, and 140 man-hours later, I had my secondary server running everything... for about an hour. When attempting to restart the VM that runs this site, the entire hard drive on that server went kaput. Yep, you read right, I lost another drive. The drive geometry was totally out of whack. I went to recover the data, and again, Hyper-V files were missing. These were Seagate Barracuda ES drives too, which have always been rock-solid for me in the past.

    I feel I need to stress this point: I hadn't lost a single hard drive in 5 years, I lost 2 inside of a week. The wonderful people at ServerBeach have all but eliminated faulty hardware, which leads me squarely to virtualization solution I was using.

    Where We're At Now
    My server environment is now nearly completely operational. I'm running everything on the Windows Server 2008 RTM bits, along with a new RAID array for each physical box, and I'm also backing up my VHDs and my web files using JungleDisk, which is a really awesome tool, that is super cheap. They also have a decent WHS add-in that I believe is a must-have for any WHS user.

    So all of the important sites are back up, and I'll be restoring the lesser sites in the next 24 hours. And now I might actually be able to get some decent sleep tonight.

    But now I'm concerned about the decision that I made to move to Hyper-V. I don't think it is as robust as Microsoft would lead you to believe, and several critical design decisions have made Hyper-V VMs *FAR* less portable than Virtual PC / Virtual Server VMs. The word of record is that Hyper-V will ship in 6 months, and that gives me cause for great concern. I was told by someone on the Hyper-V team that these issues were not Hyper-V's fault, that they would have seen it in hardware testing. But why did 2 drives that were less than 90 days old fail within a week of each other, on separate machines? Why did it happen the second time while I was starting a Hyper-V VM? And why were Hyper-V files the only ones that vanished off the disks like they never existed?

    I sure hope the Hyper-V team contacts me to investigate this. Because I lost over $10K in productivity over this code, I'd really hate to get blown off, and later find that it *is* a bug, that just happened to take down someone a lot more important than me. I'd really rather that $10K at least mean *something*.

    And yes, I know... that's what I get for using Beta software... I should probably know better.

    BTW, the team at ServerBeach has been nothing short of incredible, and I couldn't have fixed everything without them. After the 50 or so tickets I had to open up, I'm surprised they're still letting me be a client.

    Now if you'll excuse me... my bed misses me... and vice versa.

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