Robert McLaws: Windows Edition

Blogging about Windows since before Vista became a bad word

January 2009 - Posts

  • Windows 7: Next Stop, Release Candidate

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    Windows Chief Steven Sinofsky has taken some time to outline what happens from here to GA with Windows 7. As MJ, Paul Thurrott, and others have notes, the release did not say Windows 7 Beta 1, it was just a beta. It’s a good post, but I’ve pulled the key takeaways below:

    The next milestone for the development of Windows 7 is the Release Candidate or “RC”. Historically the Release Candidate has signaled “we’re pretty close and we want people to start testing the release, especially because all the features are done.” As we have said before, with Windows 7 we chose a slightly different approach which we were clear up front about and are all now experiencing together and out in the open.

    Of course the other work we’re doing is refining the final product based on all the real-world usage and feedback. We’ve received a lot of verbatim feedback regarding the user experience—whether that is default settings, keyboard shortcuts, or desired options to name a few things. Needless to say just working through, structuring, and “tallying” this feedback is a massive undertaking and we have folks dedicated to doing just that. At the peak we were receiving one “Send Feedback” note every 15 seconds! As we’ve talked about in this blog, we receive a lot of feedback where we must weigh the opinions we receive because we hear from all sides of an issue—that’s to be expected and really the core design challenge. We also receive feedback where we thought something was straight forward or would work fine, but in practice needed some tuning and refinement. Over the next weeks we’ll be blogging about some of these specific changes to the product. These changes are part of the process and part of the time we have scheduled between Beta and RC.

    So right now, every day we are researching issues, resolving them, and making sure those resolutions did not cause regressions (in performance, behavior, compatibility, or reliability). The path to Release Candidate is all about getting the product to a known and shippable state both from an internal and external (Beta usage and partner ecosystem readiness) standpoint.

    We will then provide the Release Candidate as a refresh for the Beta. We expect, based on our experience with the Beta, a broad set of folks to be pretty interested in trying it out.

    There’s one extra step which is what we call General Availability or GA. This step is really the time it takes literally to “fill the channel” with Windows PCs that are pre-loaded with Windows 7 and stock the stores (online or in-person) with software. We know many folks would like us to make the RTM software available right away for download, but this release will follow our more established pattern. GA also allows us time to complete the localization and ready Windows for a truly worldwide delivery in a relatively small window of time, a smaller window for Windows 7 than any previous release. It is worth noting that the Release Candidate will continue to function long enough so no one should worry and everyone should feel free to keep running the Release Candidate.

    So to summarize briefly:

    • Pre-Beta – This release at the PDC introduced the developer community to Windows 7 and represents the platform complete release and disclosure of the features.
    • Beta – This release provided a couple of million folks the opportunity to use feature complete Windows 7 while also providing the telemetry and feedback necessary for us to validate the quality, reliability, compatibility, and experience of Windows 7. As we said, we are working with our partners across the ecosystem to make sure that testing and validation and development of Windows 7-based products begins to enter final phases as we move through the Beta.
    • Release Candidate (RC) – This release will be Windows 7 as we intend to ship it. We will continue to listen to feedback and telemetry with the focus on addressing only the most critical issues that arise. We will be very clear in communicating any changes that have a visible impact on the product. This release allows the whole ecosystem to reach a known state together and make sure that we are all ready together for the Release to Manufacturing. Once we get to RC, the whole ecosystem is in “dress rehearsal” mode for the next steps.
    • Release to Manufacturing (RTM) – This release is the final Windows 7 as we intend to make available to PC makers and for retail and volume license products.
    • General Availability (GA) – This is a business milestone and represents when you can buy Windows 7 pre-installed on PCs or as full packaged product.

    The obvious question is that we know the Pre-Beta was October 28, 2008, and the Beta was January 7th, so when is the Release Candidate and RTM? The answer is forthcoming. We are currently evaluating the feedback and telemetry and working to develop a robust schedule that gets us the right level of quality in a predictable manner. Believe me, we know many people want to know more specifics. We’re on a good path and we’re making progress. We are taking a quality-based approach to completing the product and won’t be driven by imposed deadlines. We have internal metrics and milestones and our partners continue to get builds routinely so even when we reach RC, we are doing so together as partners. And it relies, rather significantly, on all of you testing the Beta and our partners who are helping us get to the finish line together.

    There you have it. The next build you will get will probably be the RC. And for once, it will actually be a candidate for release. Sweet!

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  • The Problem With SaaS & Cloud Services

    When I heard about the iMate Momento digital picture frame, I was an instant fan. I thought it was really great how it integrated with Vista’s SideShow. Once I received one for review, I found out that the execution fell far short of expectations.

    Well, today I got an email from iMate, which I am including in its entirety below:

    Dear Member,
    The Momento Live service will be terminated on February 25, 2009. After that date you will not have access to the Momento Live website or services. However, your Momento frame will be unaffected so you can continue to enjoy viewing your photos on your frame.

    The closure of Momento Live web site means you can no longer store your photos on the Momento Live server and/or and share your photos with other Momento Live members.

    Important note!  Any pictures that you have stored on Momento Live server will be permanently lost after February 25, 2009.  If you have any images stored on the Momento Live server, please ensure you have a copy of them stored on your PC. Any images that are hosted on Flickr, Picasa, SmugMug, or similar services will not be affected.

    When currently visiting the Momento Live web site you may receive a website security warning as the SSL certificate has expired and will not be renewed. Please ignore this message. You are welcome to continue onto the website to retrieve your images.

    To visit Momento Live please click here.
    Any questions you have may be directed to momentosupport@imate.com

    Thank you,

    The Momento Support Team

    This was not an altogether unexpected move, since the site hadn’t been upgraded since its launch. But the frame’s RSS capabilities were also dependent on the service, meaning those will be down too. Now, its effectiveness is limited to local connectivity… which is fine, except that a bunch of customers paid a premium for the internet connected services, and those customers are now SOL.

    Just goes to show you that SaaS / Software + Services / Cloud Services are only useful if the services stay online.

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  • Microsoft Is Pimping Windows 7 Beta Downloads on Facebook

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    I logged into my Facebook yesterday, and was greeted with this ad:

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    Judging by the overwhelmingly positive reviews, this is a smart move on Microsoft’s part. You would have never seen this with the Vista beta, or any other beta, for that matter. Microsoft is usually only this generous with Windows Release Candidates. Speaking of which, there is only one week left to get your hands on the Beta, so you’d better get crackin!

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  • RROD Chronicles: Third Time Still Sucks

    I just joined the 3rd Red Ring of Death club. The first time, I got a complete replacement. The second time, they just did a repair (though I had my console back 48 hours after I shipped it). I’m hoping this time I get a replacement with a Falcon board.

    I saw this one coming, and was surprised it didn’t happen sooner. For months, my console has not been recognizing discs on their first insert, sometimes taking 5 or 6 re-inserts before working. Then a couple days ago, it froze playing Halo 3. Last night, it froze watching the Cardinals game (holy crap, they won a division title?!?! Hell just froze over) anll me d when I went to restart, my old friend returned to steal the center of my living room once again.

    I was greeted with a new repair process, which would have been awesome if the system hadn’t been down for maintenance, which it neglected to tell me BEFORE I filled out my form. I have a shipping label, yet I don’t know whether they’ll ship me a box, or I have to ship it myself. Time will tell.

    If you suddenly see a huge surge in my productivity over the next week or so, now you know why.

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  • I Am Boycotting IE Mobile Until Microsoft Gets Its Act Together

    I have very high expectations for Microsoft’s Windows Mobile announcements at CES this year. You see, I have been a fan of Windows Mobile for quite some time. but, for whatever reason, Microsoft has completely dropped the ball on their platform for mobile devices. For evidence, look no further than the Windows Mobile roadmap. First Microsoft said that Windows Mobile 7 was coming soon, and it was going to radically change the platform. We haven’t heard anything about that in a while, then Ballmer mentioned Windows Mobile 6.5, and everyone went.. .WTF? Then, Microsoft announced that IE6 Mobile was only going to be available on new devices under Windows Mobile 6.1.4.

    We’ve waited something like 4 years to get a decent browser for Windows Mobile, and they’re not even going to make it a downloadable update? Screw multimedia features, i just want a better renderer, mmkay?

    IMO, I think that the Samsung Omnia is the closest thing the Windows Mobile ecosystem has to an iPhone competitor… the featureset is just spectactual. But the whole UI is custom, and if you do it right, you’ll hardly seen WiMo at all. It’s a shame that the platform can’t have these features out of the box. But the most telling part is, Omnia’s default browser is… opera Mobile. I had the chance to try an Omnia out for myself the other day, and browsing is a dream… so much so, that I’m making a drastic decision.

    Until the Windows Mobile team gets their act together and at the very least makes IE6 Mobile a downloadable upgrade for all existing WM6 phones, I’m switching browsers to Opera Mobile. IE has been banished from my phone. Microsoft may be content to let Mozilla and Apple kick their butt in the mobile space, but that doesn’t mean that I have to be caught in the middle. I’d like you to join me. Maybe if our voices are loud enough, maybe we can convince the Windows Mobile team to actually build something innovative… and release it before the end of the decade. I know that’s asking a lot, but I think it can be done.

    Your move, Microsoft.

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  • Who Benefitted the Most from the Vista Capable Program?

    Ars Technica has a wonderfully insightful piece about the Vista Capable lawsuit, and the ramifications of the $1.5B number that the plaintiffs have been floating around in the case. if you haven’t read it yet, please do so, as I agree with their points, and it is the jumping-off point for what I am about to discuss.

    First off, I want to point out that the lawsuit itself is totally bogus. While it is very good that some of the information came to light, I don’t personally think it has any merit whatsoever, and it is just an attempt to pry money from Microsoft’s hands for no good reason. “Capable” means that it can run Vista, which computers that were so labeled were technically capable of. It did not say “capable of running all editions of Vista,” so any assumption on the consumer’s part, without reading the fine print, is the consumer’s fault. Caveat Emptor.

    I admit that the program was confusing, but any consumer taking more than 10 seconds to look at it could have figured it out. Also, it’s not like these computers were not capable of running Home Premium or Ultimate, it’s just that a) you wouldn’t get Aero, and b) you wouldn’t get that great of an experience due to lack of performance. Hey, I ran Windows 95 on a 486 with 4MB RAM. It was possible, just not a good idea.

    Secondly, having a couple years to look back on the whole thing, for all the bellyaching HP did about it, I think the effort they put in benefitted them in the end. Who is the top selling computer maker in the last 2 years? HP. It’s because they make a better overall product (regardless of how much crap they add to it, but I’ve ranted about that enough already (with another one coming soon).

    In my first post on the subject, I talked about how an HP exec bristled when I even mentioned WinSAT in a discussion. Regardless of his reaction, my point about WinSAT was (and is) still valid. The OEMs know what hardware produces which WinSAT score. i don’t understand why OEMs aren’t shipping more balanced machines. Most PCs that ship today come with wildly schizophrenic WinSAT scores. My Samsung Q1 ranges from a 4.0 in memory to a 1.5 on processor with Windows 7, and the Lenovo x300 I’m also reviewing varies from 6.0 for the SSD to a 3.5 on graphics with Windows 7. That’s just ridiculous, these machines should be far more balanced than they are.

    I think you should be able to go online, and say that you want a computer that rates a 3.0 across the board, and they will put in hardware that does the trick. Then, when you look online at PC games you want to buy, you should be able to see underneath it computers for sale at various retailers that meet the minimum requirements. It could work the same for servers too. Wouldn’t it be great if you could say “well, if you need to serve 10,000 SQL requests an hour, you need a system with a minimum 4.2 WinSAT score, and then you could find well-balanced machines preconfigured to handle those requirements, or servers available from hosting providers for that matter.

    Anyways, getting back to the point. HP, Lenovo, Dell and the like make products with varying degrees of quality. HP’s computers were best suited to run Vista, and the market responded to that. Coupled with Dell’s piss-poor technical support, and HP is at the top of the heap. While it is understandable that they put so much effort into meeting the original requirements, and they might be upset at the change… I think that it did far more good than harm in the end. So as a company, I don’t think they have much to complain about.

    But hey, that’s just my opinion.

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  • WARNING: Windows 7 Beta Eats MP3s, Fix Coming

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    Tom Warren from Neowin warns us that Windows 7 Beta (Build 7000) has an issue where Windows Media Player 12 corrupts the first few seconds of MP3 files when it tries to download additional metadata about the file (which is the default setting).

    "The problem only happens when you edit metadata on a certain class of MP3 file (a file with a header larger than 16KB). When the new metadata is written, it corrupts the beginning of the file. This can happen either when you edit the metadata from inside WMP or Explorer, or it can happen if you have WMP set to automatically fill in missing metadata using the online service and add the MP3 to your library. This problem is only present in the recently leaked build" according to one poster in our forums.

    Microsoft's official response is "Microsoft is aware of this issue and it will be addressed in the beta program". Microsoft is currently readying QFE (quick engineering fix) that will be distributed by Windows Update for those with official and non-official access.

    Personally, I think it’s great that MS will put out a patch that will work with the build that leaked. I wonder how the bug creeped into the build in the first place. Well, I would recommend sutting of the metadata lookup in WMP12 for the time being, whatever build of Windows 7 you may be running.

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  • Chris Holmes Thinks Windows 7 Will Save Microsoft

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    It’s a new year, and in a few short days, Microsoft will introduce the world to a piece of software they are hoping will change the tide of public opinion. Windows expert and former Windows-Now blogger Chris Holmes (AKA Chris123NT) just posted an editorial that is definitely worth your reading. It sums up what many of us Windows geeks have been feeling the last few months, playing around with the various Windows 7 builds that have been been released/leaked/stolen.

    I was doing some thinking over the past few weeks and I came to a realization.  Windows 7, with all of its improvements in performance, new features, and more streamlined development process, will actually save Microsoft and redeem them from the whole Vista crash.  So I decided to write up WHY Windows 7 will tromp every previous Windows version and why we should pay close attention to it.

    Of course, it is going to have its detractors. Of course Microsoft still has a LONG way to go on the PR front. But while people often malign Vista, the success of Office 2007 often gets ignored, and after almost 2 years of fighting the silence, I am glad Microsoft is bringing Office’s successes to Windows. if my experience over the last 3 months has been any indication, Windows 7 will be the most stable version of Windows ever. And the one you will enjoy using the most.

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  • My Samsung Q1 Gets an Overhaul

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    Nearly a year ago, I received a Samsung Q1 Ultra-Mobile PC for review. I still have it laying around, although it hasn’t gotten much use lately. I tried using it for a while as a mobile TV device when my wife and I go on trips with the kids, but the 1GB RAM and the 4200 RPM hard drive were not enough to keep just about any video from stuttering to the point of unwatchable.

    So this Christmas, I got brave, and decided to perform some minor surgery on this underpowered little device. For just about $50, my Q1 now has 2GB RAM, as well as an Intel WiFi Link 4965AGN card. Coupled with a clean install of the Windows 7 Beta, I now have a mobile entertainment system that streams media from my home network, and plays it off the hard drive, with ease. It is also surprisingly responsive to everyday tasks like web browsing and e-mail.

    So how did I do it?

    The Parts

    The Tools

    The Process
    If you follow the video, you should be able to get the thing open in relatively short order. The secret is a clip under the VGA access door, and then popping the case over the headphone jack. On my model, the memory was on top, and the WiFi was underneath the mainboard, but YMMV. But be careful, as the Ethernet card is mounted as a daughter card to the motherboard, I’d highly recommend leaving it screwed in. I took mine out, and my wired internet connection no longer works :(.

    The Result
    Windows 7 appears to have adjusted their Windows Experience Index scores (also known as WinSAT) as a result of the Vista Capable lawsuit. You’d never get Microsoft to admit that is the reason, but I’d be willing to bet money that’s why my WinSAT scores dropped half a point for the processor, and a full point for the Intel 945 integrated graphics (which is at the center of the Vista Capable suit). The only thing that stayed the same was my crappy hard drive.

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    The memory upgrade, coupled with the speed and memory footprint improvements in Windows 7, have FINALLY made my Q1 a pleasure to use. It feels much zippier and responsive, and I don’t have to wait for… well, hardly anything, even at 800MHz.

    I’ve started using it as an eBook reader, so that I can take books with me on the go. And with the new HomeGroup built right in to Media Center, I can *FINALLY* use it to watch TV the way I want to. Though you still can’t use it as a full-blown extender, you CAN still watch Recorded TV, without skipping or lagging.

    Final Thoughts
    The only thing I’m still not happy with is the hard drive. I think if it had an SSD, it would be far more responsive. I’m looking at getting one of the new ZIF SSDs from RunCore, but now computer upgrades get to compete for attention with the ‘66 Mustang my parents gave their adult children for Christmas (they drive it around the country every few months and let one of us use it… it’s my turn until the spring). Maybe if someone gave me one for review *cough cough* I could report back any improvements. I was also thinking about the cheaper SuperTalent PCIe SSD… but then if I wanted to put in a WWAN card, I’d be out of luck. Hmmm.

    But for now, I’m anxious to see if my beefier UMPC will make me any more productive. Stay tuned.

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  • Microsoft Introduces “Fix It For Me” KB Articles

    I just stumbled across this new blog in the TechNet Blogs feed:

    Have you ever come across a Microsoft Knowledge Base (KB) article or been presented with a Windows Error Reporting (WER) solution and asked yourself, why can't Microsoft just fix this for me? Today KB articles and WER solutions provide you with a list of steps that can be followed to resolve your issue. However, tomorrow looks much different and we hope it helps you resolve any issues you have with our products faster and easier.

    Our team's purpose is to automate the steps in Microsoft KB articles and Windows Error Reporting (WER) solutions so you can click a button and have the issue resolved.

    I was hoping that maybe they came out with some cool new technology that let you run a script to fix these issues, but alas, it’s just a standard Windows Installer MSI file that modifies the registry or runs a script or whatever. But it’s still incredibly useful for non-techies who don’t need to know or care about the Registry.

    So if you see this image: you’re just a few clicks away from a solution!

    Hopefully more KB articles will provide this feature in the future, and it looks like the FixIt4Me blog will be updated whenever a new article is published.

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