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Old conversations? It's all about context.

I posted a while ago about taking old conversations and brining them back in to focus so that they could be explored fully in the correct media. What you should not do, however, is just explore things which seem to back up your argument when they are not actually relevant.

Why do I say this?

My earlier post about installation issues with the betas of Vista SP1 are being found and quoted (see here for example) now in relation to the issues that people have been experiencing with the RTM build. These later issues are mainly due to the driver problems that caused Microsoft to delay the release of SP1 in the first place and have now prompted Microsoft to offer toll free SP1 installation support in the US).

So, if you're going to bring old conversations back in to focus make sure they are still relevant to the situation today.

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Vista SP1 RTM install went without a hitch.

Last night I removed the Vista SP1 RC Refresh 2 build and replaced it with the RTM standalone upgrade package (434MB).

With previous builds I had been experiencing an issue where the network adapter was being reinstalled as a new device - even up to the Refresh 2 build. This meant that the connection was losing all its settings including static IP, DNS servers etc. I was fully prepared for the same thing to happen again and was beginning to wonder if the device was affected by the driver installation issues that have caused Microsoft to delay the release of the service pack.

I left the install running when I went to bed and woke this morning to find that everything had gone through without issue. Yes, even the network card settings were still in place. Was this just by luck or has something actually changed in the RTM build even though Microsoft say that it is the same code as the RC Refresh 2 build?

Are you a tester? Have you installed the RTM build and noticed any change in behaviour?

UPDATE: Oh, by the way, if you're not a tester Mike Nash has posted updated details about the availability of SP1.

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Testers get Vista SP1 RTM early.
Microsoft have clearly been listening and given the core testers access to the Vista SP1 RTM build (x86 and x64) on the Connect website.
Each method of installation is available:
  • install via Windows Update
  • SP1 upgrade package
  • Vista with SP1 full ISO image
Languages currently support are English, German, Japanese, French and Spanish. So, if you're a tester and you haven't got it yet head on over to Connect and grab it.
Related Posts
Vista SP1 RC Refresh 2 is RTM after all.

After a period of denial Mary Jo Foley reports that Microsoft are finally admitting that the Release Candidate Refresh 2 build of Windows Vista SP1 after all. This means that those of us among the 15,000 core technical testers already have the final code, just not with the final build number attached.

The registry changes required to force install this build via Windows Update have leaked out on to the web - another example of testers breaching the NDA they signed up to when joining the program.

It remains to be seen if Microsoft will remove the Refresh 2 build from Windows Update so that the leaked changes no longer work but I can't imagine it happening until the final RTM build is made available. It is probably not that much of an issue for them as only a small percentage of (more tech savvy) Vista users will be going to get the code this way.

What's your take?

Should Microsoft make it available now for anyone who is willing to run the gauntlet with their device drivers?

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Vista SP1 RTM but don't get excited just yet.

Microsoft that Vista Service Pack 1 was finally released to manufacturing but we've unfortunately got to wait another month before we can install it. Why? This post from Mike Nash over at the Windows Vista Team blog reveals why:

"Our beta testing identified an issue with a small set of device drivers.  These drivers do not follow our guidelines for driver installation"

In mid March users will be able to get SP1 from Windows update but, as it will be delivered via Windows Update "we will only offer it to PCs that we detect don't have any of the affected device drivers installed". Those affected will, however, be able to download a standalone installer via the Download Center and take the risk.

Also according to the post, as drivers become available for affected devices those systems with such devices will have SP1 unblocked via Windows Update from the middle of April but there is no guarantee that the manufacturers will have resolved their issues. We are therefore in their hands.

Personally, I believe that a standalone installer should be made available now. If you are going to take the risk in a months time then the chances are you would be perfectly happy to do so now - what's the difference?

Windows Server 2008 also went RTM today and the final images are available for testers to download from the Connect web site (albeit with no keys) so why not trust testers with the final build of SP1? It is not listed.

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How to recreate the Vista "Switch between windows" shortcut.

Viktor asked in a comment how he could recreate the "Switch between windows" icon which triggers the flip 3D feature in Vista as his has gone missing. Well, here's how you can do it:

  • first, right click the desktop and select New then Shortcut
  • in the location box type "C:\Windows\System32\rundll32.exe dwmapi #105" (without the quotes)

  • click next then give the shortcut the correct name

    This will create a new shortcut with the default icon so we will need to change that

  • right click the shortcut and go to properties
  • click Change Icon and type "%SystemRoot%\explorer.exe" (again without quotes) in the box "Look for icons in this file"
  • when you click Browse you can select the Switcher icon from the list within explorer.exe

  • Click OK twice and you'll have a brand new icon you can place wherever you want.

I hope that helps Viktor.

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So far so good with the SP1 RC Refresh 2.

Install went without a hitch except for a small period where the screen went completely blank and the monitor showed no signal - slightly worrying.

I performed a few tests and everything seemed ok so time will tell if I pick up any bugs in this build.

Related Posts
Vista SP1 RC1 refresh 2 released to core testers.
It's hard to work out exactly where we are in relation to RTM with the current release nomenclature employed by Microsoft but the latest build has been made available to the 15,000 core testers. We will have to wait and see if this build ends up going public like the last one.
This build contains "all tested changes up to Microsoft's RC Refresh 2 date" but that does not necessarily mean that all bugs discovered prior to the build will be fixed - only the "tested" changes. Currently the build is only available via Windows Update so there is obviously a focus on testing this method of delivery rather than installing from a standalone package.
As with previous builds there are pre-requisite updates required:
- KB935509 (for Ultimate and Enterprise SKUs only - BitLocker update)
- KB938371 (several fixes including the Trusted Installer)
- KB937287 (the "installer" code for the service pack)
As usual, I will be applying this build and reporting any issues found although the Refresh 1 was pretty stable for me.
Should businesses hold off on Vista in favour of waiting for Windows 7?
This question is being asked a lot at present. The answer? No!
Business often adopts the SP1 rule - they will not upgrade to a new version of a Microsoft product until Service pack 1 hits. Well, Vista SP1 is just around the corner so the time is right to start planning. Yes, we will have XP Service pack 3 which will include some of the networking technology which links Vista and Windows Server 2008 so closely but is this enough to save such an ageing platform?
The differences between Windows XP and Windows 7 are going to be far wider  so it would only make sense to go for a stepped migration. If the "shipping seven" blog is to be believed there will be little major architectural change between Vista and Windows 7 so anything that works on Vista should generally work on 7; the same will most definitely not be said of XP. A gradual change is better than a big jump.
Windows 7 may be rumoured to be available at end of 2009 but realistically the adoption date will be more like the end of 2010 / beginning of 2011. If business is wary of adopting Vista now then they are going to be equally wary of going to 7, if not more so, and again will most likely wait for sp1 before making the switch.
The first beta of 7 may be due in around a years time but this is a long way off a final release - don't let the apparent timescales fool you. We are basing the release at the end of 2009 date on rumours rather than facts so it is still likely that we could be looking at a 2010 release anyway. This was the first date announced in the Windows Roadmap so gives Microsoft some "slipping room" even if they were planning on moving the schedule forward.
The answer, therefore, has to be not to hold off; move to Vista and at least keep up with the curve.
Reaction to the Vista SP1 RC Refresh.
It may not have escaped your notice that, so far, there have been no posts on the latest refresh build of Vista SP1. To be perfectly honest, I've been spending more time of the Tablet over the past few days rather than the Vista box so I've not had much time to really dig in to find bugs but, until now, everything has been running smoothly.
I had no issue with the install (no empty control panel etc.) although I have received one comment to the effect that there still appear to be some installation issues.
One bug I was meaning to double check occurs when moving a folder; the folder is copied but the original emptied folder is not removed from the original location. Anyone looked at that yet?
I home to be spending a bit more time over the next few days going back through previous bugs and ensuring that they have been resolved and will let you know of anything I find.
UPDATE: it looks like the folder move bug has been fixed.
Conserving power in a multi-PC household.
Now that the Home Server is up and running that means I have 3 PCs on 24/7 - not good for the electricity bill or the environment.
A Windows Home Server performs a lot of regular tasks such as disk checking and data balancing and it is not therefore viable to have it sleep for any given period as it will always wake itself up.
The server is on 24/7 as it hosts the blog and my Exchange Server - obviously downtime here is not desirable. I suppose I could offload my blog to a site such as Blogger and get a hosted Exchange account so that there was no need for the server to even be there but then I lose the element of control and also the learning factor of actually doing it all myself and, perhaps more importantly, trying to fix it when it goes wrong.
So, the only option is the normal desktop PC but how do we rationalise this with the WHS wanting to do an automatic backup over night?
The default time frame WHS uses for backups is 00:00 to 06:00 giving plenty of scope. Now, I'm currently only backing up the C drive so the backup time required is a lot less. I have therefore changed the backup period to 11:00 to 02:00.
WHS backup period
Next, I have disabled hibernation on the desktop; the PC recovers faster from sleep than hibernation and it is easier to just move the mouse rather than have to turn the PC back on by the power button. You can disable hibernation on a Vista PC by typing "powercfg -H off" at an elevated command (without the quotes) - you can always do powercfg -H on if you need to later.
It is possible to tell Vista to go in to sleep or hibernation from the command line using the following command:
 - rundll32.exe powrprof.dll,SetSuspendState
If hibernation is enabled the above command will trigger that, if it is disabled then it will trigger sleep instead.
I have put this command in to a batch file and then set up a scheduled task to run at 02:05 every day giving WHS backup a chance to complete. Simply create a basic task in Task Scheduler which runs your batch file.
Scheduled job
It's not much but it all helps and I may even be able to reduce the length of the backup period if I keep an eye on how long it takes to actually perform my backups.
Vista SP1 RC refresh made public.
After saying that the RC refresh build of Vista SP1 was only going to the core 15,000 tech testers Microsoft has made it publicly available for all to try via Windows Update (after the application of a small registry change).
Is this an "about-face"? No, I don't think so. At this late stage in the process it makes sense to open up the code to as many people as possible in order to catch those last minute bugs before SP1 goes RTW.
As with any beta code it is quite normal to restrict the initial trials to a controlled number of testers in case there are any obvious show-stoppers; if not then it can be given wider exposure. Microsoft's original statement did say that it was (then) not available for public download NOT that it would not be.
We are obviously very close to release with February being hinted at, backed up by testers being informed that only the most serious issues will (as I mentioned a couple of days ago) be considered for inclusion in the final release.
I see nothing wrong with Microsoft wanting to make sure they get it right and, as Mary Jo Foley posted in her own update, they have confirmed that the availability of SP1 was widened "In the interest of gaining additional tester feedback". There is no real story here.
Opinion: Is BECTA right to warn schools away from Vista and Office 2007?
You may recall around this time last year I was a bit scathing about the interim report from Becta (British Education Communications and Technology Association) advising schools not to upgrade to Windows Vista and Office 2007 as there was not a demonstrated business case for doing so and that Office 2007 had file compatibility issues.
My argument was that education should be a high priority and if we continue to hold back on new technology then we as a nation will fall behind and be not able to compete. I still believe this and think that schools should take any opportunity to lead the way and keep our kids one step ahead.
Becta have now released their final report but it's not really that different. They still say that there is no case for Vista and that Office 2007 still unfairly favours Microsoft over competitors with it's Office Open XML format as opposed to ODF used by other applications.
To be fair, Becta do say that a main reason for not rolling out Vista is that a large proportion of computers in UK schools do not even qualify as "Vista Capable" and that the cost of upgrading would not be offset by the benefits. This, however, is indicative of the state of things in the UK now (sorry to get political for a second).
One annoying comment in the report is that schools should steer clear of mixed Windows environments. Why? If schools can afford to update some PCs then let them - give the kids the opportunity to learn.
It was refreshing to see that Vista should be considered where "where new institution-wide ICT provision is being planned" but if schools can't afford to update their existing PCs to make them Vista Capable then there's going to be even less money to perform a full hardware refresh.
Becta advise that schools and colleges should only look at Office 2007 if they can adequately deal with the issues of interoperability and the digital divide different standards create. Is it just me or should we be actively creating scenarios where these issues be addressed head on? Different standards are a part of life and the sooner kids understand that the better. If Becta are worried about interoperability then why not promote a solution instead of setting up barriers? What about the Open XML/ODF translator add-in on SourceForge?
Open source advocates may not like to admit it but, despite the best arguments that businesses are dropping Microsoft, Office is still the most popular platform out there and is unlikely to be surpassed. Unlike with, Vista businesses are seeing a case for going to Office 2007 and are not holding off as they are with the adoption of the the new OS - another good reason to be teaching our kids the skills they need once they leave school.
The harsh reality is that money is short and, unless things change, our schools will be without the resources they need to give our kids the competitive edge that they need. Because of this, time is wasted later on learning the things that could have been taught at an earlier opportunity.
Opinion: stop rolling out the "speed up Vista" articles.
Is it just me or are we constantly suffering an incessant stream of articles from the tech press showing how you can speed up Vista which all say the same things - most of which are pointless.
Certain sites are simply trying to get hits by repeating the same old line: Vista is slow so we can help, but what are they really offering and does it actually help to speed up Vista?
The most common "tweaks" I see to improve the speed of Vista is to actually turn stuff off: Aero, file indexing etc. but this isn't a case of speeding up Vista it's more like stripping out the changes and making it not worth upgrading to Vista in the first place.
Turning off file indexing may prevent Windows from crawling your hard drive every now and then but what people forget is that, unless you force an update to the index, indexing occurs during your PCs idle time, i.e. when you're not using it. By turning off file indexing you actually slow things down as it takes longer any time you want to search.
Turning off Aero is another common misconception when it comes to performance. If your hardware can't handle it then Vista turns Aero off by itself but, if that's the case,you really ought to be thinking about a hardware upgrade. If your hardware CAN handle Aero then you've actually got nothing to worry about. Aero was designed to use the capabilities of your GPU instead of your CPU in order to render the interface. If the load is being taken off of your processor then it won't be having much of an impact on the overall performance of your PC. A study from November 2006 (.pdf) actually confirms this.
An article I read recently gave turning off UAC (User Account Control) as a way off speeding up Vista. UAC doesn't affect the performance of the operating system, it protects you against hosing your system by doing something you - or a piece of malware - shouldn't. If you're so impatient that you need to turn off the prompts to take certain actions (even if they can sometimes be a little annoying) then you deserve what you get.
Yes, things like the UI and indexing can be tweaked to suit your needs but  turning them off completely defeats the object of them being there in the first place.
As I mentioned in my last opinion piece it has been over 5 years since the previous version of Windows was released and the world has moved on since then. As such, I firmly believe that it is an over reaction when we start talking about Vista being slow on existing hardware. The market for end user PCs has not moved at the same rate as the components that can be used to make them, and this is mainly due to not having a new operating system forcing things along. My personal belief is that if you want to speed up Vista then you should put your hand in your pocket and get more RAM or maybe even a new PC.
We can't keep getting more complex on the same hardware - something, somewhere, has to give
Vista SP1 RC Refresh build available to testers.
A new Vista SP1 build has been made available to the core set of 15,000 testers (not a public download) which incorporates a number of fixes revealed by earlier testing. For those interested in that sort of thing the build number is 17128.
As we are getting close to shipping date we are reminded in the email that:
"at this point in the process, only the most serious issues will be considered for inclusion"
I am downloading it now and will update you on anything that seems notable - I love the speed I'm getting
SP1 RC Refresh download
By the way, the issue I bugged about Vista SP1 not identifying itself correctly to Windows Home Server is apparently a known issue and my bug has been attached to an existing one (couldn't find another reference to it myself) so hopefully that will be sorted soon.
A reminder on the Vista SP1 RC install problems.
I still get a lot of hits via searches and comments on the blog from people experiencing problems after installing the RC build of Vista SP1. I thought it would, therefore, be a good idea to re-post the position as I understand it when looking at the responses I received from the beta team at Microsoft.
No Aero, empty Control Panel etc.
These "symptoms" are all as expected if Vista drops in to reduced functionality mode which is why bugs were being closed as "By Design".
Activation issues.
It seems that a bug was causing activation issue problems which forced Vista to drop to reduced functionality mode (even when it was fully activated in my case) and thus cause the symptoms above.
As mentioned before, it wasn't that the RC build had a bug that annoyed me but that bug reports were being closed as "By Design" without explanation. This is why I asked specific questions on my own report when I submitted my bug on the issue.
I hope that helps to clarify things for you and stop people panicking that they will have to reinstall Vista when SP1 goes RTW.
I am now going to list the common searches (according to Google Analytics) that result in hits on my blog in the hope that this post may be found more easily by those looking for answers to the problems:
vista sp1 problem control panel do not show
vista sp1 problems
vista sp1 no control panel
vista sp1 control panel problem
vista sp1 issues
vista sp1 control panel
vista sp1 problem
vista sp1 rc install problem
Opinion: looking at complaints about Vista.
Among the biggest complaints I hear from co-workers about Windows Vista are:
  • it's too memory hungry
  • it takes too long to boot up (probably linked to point above)
  • it's just sh*t
The number of people who just spout off the third point without any real qualification astounds me. They are probably remarking about overall performance or UI changes, or simply don't like new look. None of these make Vista a bad operating system; they're just reflections on personal experience or taste.
Why some people can't spend £30-£40 on an extra DIMM and stop moaning is beyond me sometimes. And to one colleague who said that Vista took ten minutes to boot on his brothers PC I replied "then that PC has got a problem".
It took five years for Vista to launch and we have been stuck in a rut for that period. Windows has always driven the PC market but we have become so complacent with our XP machines that we forget about the progress the IT industry is making.
Before Vista we had a run of Windows releases all of which required a better spec machine to run (win 95, 98, 2000, XP) but the intervals between them were a lot shorter. There were just as many complaints about XP when it was released but we seem to have forgotten about that now that we are approaching SP3 - XP has gotten to the point where it feels like an old comfy pair of slippers; they may be a bit ragged and probably past their best but we're loathe to get rid of them in favour of a smart new pair.
Consumers cannot take all the blame, however, a lot of responsibility lies with the OEMs. I've said this before but it must be repeated. We all know that Vista really needs 2GB of RAM to run as intended so why do OEMs insist of selling Vista PCs with only 1GB or even 512MB? Consumers cannot help but get a poor impression of Vista when the shiny new hardware it's shipped with just doesn't cut it.
I hate to think how cheaply OEMs get their memory but the price differential between a 1GB and 2GB system will be so small that it's hardly worth considering - why not just give people a PC they can be proud of straight out of the box?
Hopefully, SP1 may allay a few fears once it hits later this quarter (and let's not forget the performance and reliability patches that are already available) but we should still be offered systems designed to take advantage of Vista not ones that hinder it.
We generally do not complain when updated versions of specific applications constantly need more power to operate so why doesn't the same apply to the operating system? We cannot expect PC spec'd 3-5 years ago to perform just as well with the software of today.
2007, the year in review: October - December.
Also see: January - March, April - June, July - September.
2007 has been a very mixed year for me with some very good times tempered with some dire times and a string of bad luck for the family. I am going to be running a series of posts looking back at the last 12 months from a tech Perspective and a personal one. I'll be looking at the things I consider to be the most important developments in the tech world as I have covered it.
As mentioned before, I had to remove beta 1 of Vista SP1 from my PC due to issues but we soon had the first build of Windows XP SP3 to keep us occupied.
Acer bought rival OEM Gateway in October and I immediately wondered what impact that would have on Gateway's line of Tablet PCs seeing as Acer had already axed their own previously. Luckily, things turned out okay with some Tablets being retained and others now being sold by MPCCorp.
The Queen described 1992 as an "annus horribilis" in her speech that year, well November was our bad month. Chloe developed Meningococcal Septicaemia and ended up in hospital on a course of intravenous antibiotics. Things were touch and go and if we had delayed any longer it could have gone in to full blown meningitis. We were all deemed at risk until a second round of blood tests came back negative. We were given the all clear but 10 days later we were involved in a car accident when a woman lost control the other way and hit us head on. Luckily no-one was injured too badly - bruising, whiplash and a good dose of shock all round. They say bad things happen in threes: our third thing was the main desktop PC dying and needing the motherboard, CPU, memory and graphics card replaced - wonderful!
As expected, the iPhone came to the UK on November 9th which prompted me to run a series of posts called "2G for a day" in which I turned off my high speed connection on the phone to see what difference only having GPRS would make - not as much as you would imagine.
On the beta front Vista SP1 hit a Release Candidate Preview build and Windows Messenger 9 was released to testers but then leaked within 48 hours.
One positive thing to come out of November was for me to reach my 4th anniversary blogging. The blog has been through a number of incarnations and most of the posts before June 2006 no longer exist on the web, although I have recreated the most common old items elsewhere on the site.
The PC failure meant I had to reactivate Vista and I then started experiencing a number of issues with Vista SP1 but I originally put these down to the hardware issues I had experienced.  It wasn't until a lot of other people starting reporting the same problems that I realised the issue was actually with the SP1 RC Preview build AND the actual RC build itself. Bugs were being closed on Connect as "won't fix" without any explanation so I posted about the issues and accused Microsoft of sweeping the problems under the carpet. It turns out that the RC builds were causing problems with activation so Vista was entering "Reduced Functionality Mode" despite Microsoft saying that this would be removed from SP1 - obviously not yet.
In December Dell finally entered the Tablet PC arena but were immediately slated for releasing a product which was far too expensive. They're response? We're dearer because we're better - hmmmmm.
HTC announced that the long suffering Shift would be delayed further with mixed reports as to why (software, hardware, battery life) causing people to cancel their pre-orders in the fear that the Shift may never see the light of day or, when it does, be obsolete. Let's see what UMPCs come out of CES 2008. Problems also confronted Windows Home Server with reports that certain types of files were corrupted when stored on a WHS machine - defeats the purpose when you have to take a separate backup as your backup solution doesn't work properly.
Aside from all of this December was unfortunately dominated by the tragic loss of Marc Orchant who died a week after suffering a massive heart attack and never regaining consciousness. Marc had a big impact on anyone who came in to contact with hmi and is a big loss to the tech community and the world at large. Rest in peace, Marc.
2007, the year in review: July - September.
Also see: January - March, April - June, October - December.
2007 has been a very mixed year for me with some very Good times tempered with some dire times and a string of bad luck for the family. I am going to be running a series of posts looking back at the last 12 months from a tech Perspective and a personal one. I'll be looking at the things I consider to be the most important developments in the tech world as I have covered it.
Looking back, July seems to have been a quiet month. There was our wedding anniversary, my birthday and the day that the Tour de France came to town. This was a great day when the community came together for a party - it's a shame that life Isn't like that more often.
July did see the start of the Windows Live OneCare v2 Beta which introduced some great new functionality (I'm still using this as my anti-virus/anti-spyware solution now).
The big tech news was that Windows Home Server RTM'ed - it was great fun testing it and it's a real shame there are now some concerns over it's reliability.
August gave us the Performance and Reliability patches for Windows Vista which gave us a number of improvements to Microsofts' much maligned flagship. These were very well Received and did actually make a difference to how Vista runs - can't be bad.
On a work note I left the site I had been working at for Nearly two and a half years as I felt it was time to move on and things had stagnated. That's the one good thing about working for an outsourcing company - you can move Between clients without having to get a new job.
Now that Windows Home Server had RTM we could all look forward to what offerings the OEMs would have to tempt us But some initial offerings failed to excite. I remarked that Some OEMs seemed to be forgetting what WHS was all about - reliable backup and storage. When you have multiple hard drives installed in WHS you can enable folder duplication Which mirrors your data accross these drives thus adding Redundancy. Some OEMs, however, were shipping units with only one drive - pointless if you ask me.
The end of August finally saw the announcement of the eagerly anticipated Windows Vista SP1 beta and my invite duly turned up. Microsoft changed the way they worked with Vista, putting out more updates via Windows Update rather than have customers waiting for the next Service Pack but businesses especially don't buy it and are still adopting the "don't touch it until SP1" stance.
A backlash against the HTC Shift started in September. What everyone initially thought of as the perfect UMPC started showing it's true colours causing a lot of potential buyers to rethink their position.
It was announced later in the month that the iPhone would be coming to the UK on November 9th with a nice hefty price tag and a minimum 18 month contract but still without 3G. It was bound to sell in reasonable numbers regardless but Apple's insistence on full control leaves a sour taste in the mouth in a country where we are used to a lot of freedom when it comes to our mobile phones.
Beta 1 of Vista SP1 finally hit in September but had to be removed very shortly afterwards due to a few show stopper bugs including not being able to connect my Windows Mobile device.
Fourth quarter to follow.
2007, the year in review: April - June.
Also see: January - March, July - September, October - December.
2007 has been a very mixed year for me with some very good times tempered with some dire times and a string of bad luck for the family. I am going to be running a series of posts looking back at the last 12 months from a tech perspective and a personal one. I'll be looking at the things I consider to be the most important developments in the tech world as I have covered it.
April saw more Windows Home Server goodness with a CTP build. Ed Bott over at ZDNet wrote a really good overview of what WHS does which is still worth checking out now.
The best news in April, however, that my article entitled "Microsoft: Fried or Foe" was published in Micro Mart magazine - you can read it here if you've not seen it. The article garnered some mixed responses on the Micro Mart forums but I was generally accused of being a Microsoft fanboy due to my view that MS have been treated unfairly at times just because of who they are. The article was called a "gag inducing ode to Bill" and that it essentially said Microsoft = good and Mac = bad - not the case at all. At least I achieve my goal in getting a conversation started.
May saw Tabby (my old Acer Tablet PC) come home to roost after spending a long time with my father in law and, while we're on the subject of Tablets, Dell finally announced that they were going to be releasing a Tablet PC. Despite Dell being perhaps the most recognisable consumer brand of PCs they were determined to focus on education, healthcare and business - I feel they really missed the mark. 
June came and went with the new TouchFLO interface from HTC and the release candidate of Windows Home Server while I introduced a new feature on the blog: posts called "From the front line" where I would relay specific issues working in the IT industry and resolutions where appropriate.
And then came June 29th - iPhone day. Will the iPhone change the world?
Third quarter to follow.
2007, the year in review: January - March.
Also see: April - June, July - September, October - December.
2007 has been a very mixed year for me with some very good times tempered with some dire times and a string of bad luck for the family. I am going to be running a series of posts looking back at the last 12 months from a tech perspective and a personal one. I'll be looking at the things I consider to be the most important developments in the tech world as I have covered it.
Let's get started with the first quarter:
January saw me open the year with my "open letter to Micrsoft" which was a plea for MS to lead the way in the UK and actually try to get technology to the masses. UK tech adoption always seems stunted - we don't have the major OEMs with a presence here, there are no opportunities to get hands on with new devices etc. - so I thought that MS would be in a perfect position to start partnering with OEMs or even retailers to get the technology out there by way of road shows, demos, decent retail opportunities etc. Some great products have come our way from the MS stable (Tablet PCs, UMPCs, and now Windows Home Server) but even the best products fall flat without the marketing to support them and this was sorely lacking, and still is.
January was also dominated by CES and MacWorld with two big announcements. Firstly, Windows Home Server was officially announced and got a lot of people (myself included) very excited about what was to come. Next, however, came the big one - the story that took over the web: Steve Jobs revealed the iPhone at MacWorld and I ran some initial thoughts about the device.
We also saw a report from Forrester Research giving details that companies were finding the move to Office 2007 harder than expected and having to invest in more training for the new "Fluid Ui" than first thought. Around the same time we caught a first glimpse of an add-in being developed internally at Microsoft called "Scout" which would help users migrate to the new UI but this failed to materialise. A big shame.
The start of the year witnessed an explosion in the Vista/Lexmark saga that began at the end of 2006. The issues that I, and many others, experienced with Lexmark printers drivers on Windows Vista were indicative of the problems faced by many when OEMs did not do a good enough - or quick enough - job of getting their drivers out of the door in time for Vista to go RTM. In my case there were repeated delays in releasing a driver for my printer and when they finally did materialise they wouldn't work. Not only that but an uninstall utility from lexmark trashed my system! Lexmark printer driver issues on Vista are probably the single biggest reason people find my blog in search engines.
January ended on a low note, on the 30th we were burgled and had our keys, wallet/purse stolen which meant we had to cancel cards etc. and get the locks changed on the car so that the thieves couldn't come back and steal it. This coincided with the RTM launch of Windows Vista which meant I obviously had far more important things on my mind than blogging about the launch of the new OS from Microsoft.
After the Vista launch the tech press was full of "should you, shouldn't you" articles which all seemed to be saying the same thing: that it just wasn't worth the upgrade yet. One particular magazine which caught my eye was Micro Mart here in the UK running the cover story "Is this 2007's most pointless upgrade?" I blogged a knee jerk reaction not having read the actual article (bad form I know) but felt incensed that customers would get a wrong impression. In response to my post I was contacted by the editor of Micro Mart about writing a piece for them so it all worked out okay in the end.
February included the beginning of the Windows Home Server beta program on Connect. I was lucky enough to have been contacted when it was invite only but the program was opened up and people registered in their thousands - 40,000 by the end of Feb to be exact, with 10,000 invites being sent.
I finished my article for Micro Mart and now just had to wait for it to be published but March was HTC Shift month. The news about HTC's UMPC offering was everywhere and, having both Vista and Windows Mobile 6 on board, really captured the imagination. The Windows Mobile 6 side of things turned out to be a cut down offering called SnapVUE and there are concerns over battery life - even now the device still hasn't made it to production.
Second quarter to follow.
Making your Windows Mobile a SideShow device.
On Friday Engadget Mobile ran this story regarding Ikanos Consulting Ltd releasing a beta product (Go Gadgets) which can turn a Windows Mobile 5 or 6 device in to a Windows SideShow display.
Microsoft have been saying that this would happen - maybe it will arrive in Windows Mobile 7 - but there has been no official word yet.
As you can understand, the response to this story has been huge (Ikanos have also released a beta for the iPhone) so I wasn't really surprised when I got this response to a request for the beta:
"We are currently experiencing high demand for places on the beta programme. Your name has been added to the queue, and you will receive an e-mail invitation to join the beta as soon as the next phase begins."
As soon as I hear anything else I will let you know.
A response from MS.
My bug has been closed as "By Design" as it is felt I ran into an activation problem which seems to be common with the beta.
The two suggestions (both by design) are as follows:
- Vista was installed PIDless (i.e. without putting in a CD key during the install routine) and it's then hit a timeout
-  the system time was changed to "get around something" and hit a time bomb
As SP1 RC was on a fully activated Vista RTM box which was also re-activated by phone after the hardware problems then something must have gone wrong to trigger reduced functionality.
I have responded but it is a shame that I have gone through a complete reinstall of Vista as I now, obviously, have no logs etc.
UPDATE: just to confirm, the control panel does come up empty when in reduced functionality mode (wasn't SP1 supposed to be getting rid of this?)
Clarifying my position on the Vista SP1 issues.
Having had a comment exchange with Brandon Le Blanc I realised that my SP1 rants seemed more focused on the fact that there have been problems rather than what I really intended to get across.
I completely agree with Brandon that the RC build is still pre-release so bugs should still be expected - I've never said there shouldn't be any - but my main concern is that the problems people are experiencing leave them with a PC that just doesn't work and that the issues seem to be brushed under the carpet.
When a Release Candidate build leaves your PC effectively unusable and you are being told that the issue will not be fixed you are essentially being told that you will not be able to install the final build of SP1 on the assumption that the particular problem will still be there. Down the line SP1 will become a prerequisite for future fixes so people will be forced to go through the hassle of reinstalling Windows hoping that SP1 will work so that they can stay secure.
My concern is not that there are bugs (let's face it that is what beta testing is for - to get rid of them) but there is no communication or explanation when a potential show-stopper appears to have been dismissed.
Brandon has offered to pass the concerns back to MS (thanks Brandon) so we'll see what happens.
I hope that this helps clarify things a bit better.
The Vista SP1 problem evidence is mounting up.
Note: this post relates to Release Candidate builds of Vista SP1 and not the final RTM build (see here) so do not read this in the same context.
As I mentioned before, there have been a number of bugs submitted regarding problems with the Vista SP1 RC install (including the Control Panel being empty and Aero not working) but have been closed as Resolved (won't fix) - I have added my bug to the list. These have been also verified by other testers so why are they seemingly being dismissed out of hand?
Having received a couple of comments on the blog from people who have suffered similar issues to myself I decided to have a look at my stats on Google Analytics to gauge the extent of the issue:
SP1 Google Analytics stats
The above is the stats for those visiting the blog since my "Vista SP1 problems being swept under the carpet" post (link above) that I made on 6th December where the search term includes "control". All 71 visits/51 keywords relate to a problem with the control panel in Vista SP1. These stats do not account for other searches relating to Vista SP1 install issues, Aero not working or other searches.
For something that Microsoft say they won't fix there seem to be an awful lot of people with the same issues.
What is the basis for closing these bugs without fixing them? No justification is given on Connect as to why these bugs are being closed so I think it's time that we had some answers. It may be something perfectly innocuous but without any communication we are just left with an ever increasing number of people reporting the same problems but a wall of silence from those responsible for SP1.
Please let me know if you are also having problems.
The argument that these problems are caused by Vista entering reduced functionality mode seem to be all over the web but checking KB925582 I fail to see how this would account for all of the issues experienced. The article says that the features unavailable in reduced functionality mode are as follows:
Play built-in games

The games that are included with Windows Vista are unavailable in reduced functionality mode.
Use premium features

Windows Vista premium features such as Aero Glass, ReadyBoost, and BitLocker are unavailable in reduced functionality mode.
Log on for more than one hour
Surely, even "Premium Features" cannot include having an empty control panel. I suppose the real test would be to stay logged in for an hour and see if Vista kicks you out - if you're reading this because you have these issues please try staying logged in for an hour and then if Vista DOES kick you out run the following from an elevated command prompt:
  c:\Windows\System32>slmgr.vbs -rearm
Even if Vista IS entering reduced functionality mode Microsoft REALLY need to sort this out - a service pack should not cause perfectly genuine installations of Vista to crap out on people like this.
Vista SP1 problems being swept under the carpet?
The problems I was experiencing with the Vista SP1 RC build may not have been specific to my condition after all. djnikos left a comment that the same thing happened with SP1 installed on an laptop which had hardware replaced.
Similar issues have been bugged over at Connect and one of the suggestions to get round it is to run the command:
   cscript %systemroot%\system32\slmgr.vbs -rearm
This command re-initialises the countdown for activation so perhaps it is felt that the issues are being caused by problems with reduced functionality in Vista. This, however, does not make sense.
SP1 is doing away with reduced functionality mode (is this in the RC build?) and replacing it with continual prompts to get Windows activated and ensure that it is a genuine copy. After I replaced my hardware I was forced to reactivate so I fail to see how I could have dropped to a reduced functionality mode anyway. The fact that everything worked after removing the service pack (had to boot to safe mode in order to do the uninstall) indicates that activation state is not an issue.
Other avenues of investigation seem to be pointing toward 3rd party applications that affect how the shell operates.
The issues reported as bugs on Connect and validated by a number of people are being closed as Resolved (won't fix) - this has been questioned in the comments.
So, what's going on Microsoft? Do we have a problem here?
More SP1 woes.
I had a look at at number of things last night then reinstalled SP1 RC - same problems: empty control panel, system windows not opening, etc.
Safe Mode works okay so it's obviously something going on with what's installed or a conflict but I'm running out of options. I uninstalled a few apps and removed/reinstalled the graphics card as I thought this may be having an impact but no change.
Tell a lie, there was one change: I started uninstalling SP1 at about 8:30 last night and it was still going when I left for work this morning (about 5:20). Sal has just rung saying that Vista had booted to Safe Mode - the plot thickens.
UPDATE: Sal just called, the service pack is still installed! 10 hours for nothing. She's trying again.
UPDATE 2: SP1 uninstalled correctly that time.
Problems with the Vista SP1 RC install.
I think it's my installation of Vista that's at fault here and not a problem with the Service Pack.
As you may recall, after my PC went belly up and enforced a hardware change on me I had problems with system windows not opening and the control panel being empty etc. I had to remove the RC Preview build of SP1 to restore some sanity.
After installing the RC build last night I first suspected there were problems when the UI had reverted to Aero Basic. Personalize would not open and the Control Panel was again showing blank.
There is an issue with the Control Panel not showing icons which is caused by corrupt folder view settings - the usual fix is to remove the BagsMRU and Mags registry keys so that the folder views can be recreated - in this instance removing the keys made no difference.
I would imagine that there are still some problems lurking in the background from the issue caused by the hardware failure - I may have to do a repair of the main install.
One other possibility is that the is a lingering driver issue. One thing I was planning to do anyway was to remove and reinstall the ATI driver and Catalyst Control Center.
I had been through Device Manager last night removing all traces of the old hardware which were no longer attached to the system. By default Device manager will not show non present devices so you need to do the following:
open an elevated command prompt and type -
set devmgr_show_nonpresent_devices=1 (hit enter)
then open device manager from the same command prompt using -
When you then choose to show hidden devices the items that are no longer in or attached to your computer will have a faded icon, they can then be easily uninstalled from the system.
I'm going to have to spend some time with this and see if I can get to the bottom of the issue.
I'll say one thing for the RC build of SP1: it uninstalls a lot quicker than the RC Preview.
Vista SP1 Release Candidate available to testers.
As you've no doubt already seen elsewhere Nick White has announced over at the Windows Vista Team Blog that the Release Candidate build of Vista Service Pack 1 is now available for testers on Connect.
In a break from tradition I'm going to pull it down via Windows Update rather than as a standalone installer (the prerequisites are installing as I type this).
I'm off to restart and get the RC build installed.
Fixing Windows Explorer file previews in Vista.

I'm not sure if it was related to the issues I was having with the SP1 beta after the reactivation but I noticed that the Preview Pane in Windows Explorer would not show all file previews correctly (most notably audio and video files). A quick trawl round Google revealed that is what most likely going to be an issue with the Preview Handlers on the system or, more correctly, their association with the various file types I was trying to preview.

It was then that I stumbled across a great little tool called the Preview Handler Association Editor as posted by Stephen Toub:

Preview Handler Association Editor
(Image from Stephen's blog)

The registry entries for the various file types had obviously become corrupted or altered causing the previews not to operate (they were just showing the file type icon in the preview pane). Checking the specific file extensions showed that they were already associated with the Windows Media Player preview handler but obviously something was wrong. I therefore removed the associations, restarted the editor and re-associated the relevant extensions with the Media Player handler.

Voilà! All file previews were now working again.

More on the repair/upgrade.
Vista is pretty robust, more so than XP in my experience.
As I only replaced the motherboard, processor, RAM and graphics card on the Vista PC the hard drives went back in intact - Vista booted and recognised the new devices okay (I just needed to install motherboard and card specific drivers).
Now, the only problem with replacing those parts was that the system then needed re-activation after the next reboot. A quick call to the free phone, automated activation line soon sorted this but that's where the problems started.
Whilst seeming to run fine before re-activation I had a number of issues with various windows afterwards. The control panel would be empty when opened and any other "system" window would not open (MMC for services etc.) unless the PC was in safe mode. Just as a test I removed Vista SP1 RC Preview and full functionality was restored.
With everything back up and running I decided to do something about my low Windows Experience Index score (see my earlier post) so, using the latest beta of ATITool (which gives Vista support) I have overclocked the graphics card quite a bit over it's stock values and now have a better WEI score again:
WEI after overclock
And we're back!
We're back with a newly repaired PC. Not only is it repaired but it is now a Core 2 Duo system with a Direct X 10 graphics card.
I have done the rebuild on a budget and consequently could only get a cheap graphics card but, with the way technology progresses, I was surprised to see the changes caused to the Windows Experience Index score on my PC.
As expected, the processor score rose by a healthy margin but the graphics scores are quite disappointing:
WEI before
WEI Before
WEI after
WEI After
The graphics card is a Radeon HD 2400 Pro (so not exactly setting the world on fire) but I would have expected more from even a basic next gen card.
Anyway, were back up and running and it feels good!
What does Vista SP1 really offer the home user?
Some say that Vista RTM was still a beta and that SP1 is probably just turning Vista in to what it sold have been at launch. Well, SP1 is now just around the corner (we’re still on for a Q1 2008 release) so what does it really offer for the average home user?
The MS blurb for SP1 states:
"In addition to previously released updates, SP1 will contain changes focused on addressing specific reliability, performance, and compatibility issues, supporting new types of hardware, and adding support for several emerging standards"
and goes on to clarify that:
"SP1 is not intended to be a vehicle for releasing new features; however some existing components do gain slightly enhanced functionality in SP1".
We have already had the reliability and performance updates made available for download prior to the release of SP1 so, what else is left?
As I have mentioned before Microsoft giveth, the DoJ taketh away. Users are able to select which drives they want to defragment from the GUI rather than having to use a command line but the Search option is gone from the start menu so that Microsoft comply with the requirements relating to the setting of default applications (SP1 allows you to chose your default search app instead of being explicitly tied in to the built in Desktop Search).
BitLocker has been enhanced so that you can choose which drives you want to encrypt (RTM only encrypted the C drive) so as to prevent access to data on lost or stolen computers. BitLocker, however, is only available in the Enterprise and Ultimate SKUs so is unlikely to be employed by many home users.
The bulk of the other changes in SP1 are related to better support for recent/new technologies such as IPv6, exFAT, IMAPI v2.0 and networking enhancements when used in conjunction with Windows Server 2008. So far there doesn’t seem to be too much for the home user to shout about.
From what I can see, the other main benefit that SP1 offers for the home user is support for 802.11n wireless networks enabling users to upgrade their wireless hardware without worry. The “connect to a network” dialog will now show the type of wireless network (a, b, g or n) when you hover over it with a mouse – woohoo!
As always it is good that a Service Pack includes all the previous patches as it means they can be installed all in one go and, consequently, the performance and reliability patches will be applied to the machine but I must admit that I’m seeing very little over value for the average Joe who gets Vista with that new PC he buys for the holidays.
Less than favourable comparisons will no doubt be made with Apple's practice of shipping new functionality with each update to OSX - maybe rightly so but what new functionality would we have Microsoft add to Vista at this point in time without being accused of abusing their monopoly position?
Microsoft are no doubt still trying to recover from being over ambitious with the original Longhorn project. Starting over and striping out "the best bits" (WinFS etc.) because they were not achievable in the Vista time frame caused a lot of criticism to be directed their way but I can't see a way round this until "Windows 7" ships in 2010.
Initial report on Vista SP1 RC Preview.
The install of the Windows Vista SP1 RC Preview went well last night in total taking about an hour and 10 minutes to complete (it does warn you that it can take over an hour during the initial setup).
The first thing you notice after the first reboot is that the installation is more informative than with the previous build. Some updates are installed first - 3 stages with reboots in between - which are presumably the prerequisites, and then SP1 itself goes through 3 stages of installation.
Unlike the previous build you get a good visual indication of progress:
SP1 progress
I haven't had much time to look at how the service pack performs but the good news is that my Windows Mobile phone now connects.
Vista SP1 RC Preview available to testers.
Microsoft have made an RC Preview build of Windows Vista SP1 available for download. Needless to say it's coming down and I'll report back on my experiences with it.
The main issue I experienced with the first build was that my Windows Mobile phone would not connect to the PC over USB. Hopefully, this issue will be resolved and I can give the new build a proper test.
Has it really been a year?
Josh over at Windows Connected points out that it's a year since Windows Vista RTM'ed. Where has the time gone?
So, how do we feel Vista is doing on it's first birthday?
Like Josh, I've had minimal issues. I know some apps I use on XP are not compatible because the company that makes them says so. I would need to buy an updated version should I want compatibility but I'm happy dual booting.
SP1 is in motion and should be good once it leaves beta but the biggest issue has to be drivers and, in my case, Lexmark in particular. It's a sorry state of affairs when you are forced to buy a new printer even when the (eventually released) Vista compatible drivers just fail to work.
Lexmark is still one of the biggest causes of visits to this blog - a lot of other people are also having driver issues - but that's not the fault of Vista itself.
I'm still happy with Vista after a year and still think it gets bashed unfairly. Perhaps the true test of how well it's doing will be on it's first retail birthday and then with SP1.
How will HTC address the Shift battery issue?
According to Steve over at UMPC Portal HTC have taken on board the feedback that 2 hours battery life under Vista on the HTC Shift is just not good enough and are trying to do something about it.
The question remains: what can they do?
There is virtually nothing they can do with the hardware - various components have (apparently) already been selected to reduce power consumption and there's not much they can do to Vista to increase battery life except install the latest patches but how much difference do they actually make?
So, what's left? Well - the battery itself. Steve also says that the Shift uses the same battery as the Fujitsu U1010 which is generally listed with 3 hours battery life so what's gone wrong?
Does the Shift need a more dense battery? Or should we be looking at an extended battery by default?
Let's hope there is some more news before launch.
Why I've uninstalled Vista SP1 until beta 2.
The initial issues I had experienced with SP1 were minor and didn't really affect my decision to keep it on the PC but events yesterday have caused me to remove it and not reinstall it until Beta 2.
Why? I'll tell you.
After SP1 is installed the Windows Mobile Device Center refuses to stay connected to my phone (or Sal's so it's not just my device). It says connecting but drops the connection straight away meaning you can sync or even access the device via Windows Explorer.
Two errors are written to the event log, both from rapimgr
Rapimgr event 6
Rapimgr event 8
This is a complete deal breaker for me so SP1 will not be reinstalled until beta 2 which which hopefully resolve the issue.
Oh, the bug I logged about DreamScene being not being detected after SP1 was installed has been closed as "By Design" - work that one out!
A few thoughts on Vista SP1 Beta.
After my initial install of Vista SP1 beta everything seemed OK until I fired up Windows Update in order to install the final release of the Windows Ultimate Extra DreamScene.
Once the final release of DreamScene was announced it would not show in my Windows Update. I uninstalled the preview but with SP1 installed the final release would not be picked up,l only the preview was shown again:
No DreamScene
While this isn't a big issue it's an indication that something isn't right - so what else could be wrong?
Part of the suggested testing of SP1 is to ensure that both the install AND uninstall go according to plan so, to test this and see if DreamScene would be available, I sat through over an hour of uninstallation (yes it takes just as long to remove SP1 as to install it).
The uninstall appeared to go okay and Windows rebooted itself a number of times as expected. When logging in, however, I was greeted with an error that Windows had recovered from an unexpected shutdown.
Shutdown error
SP1 places the Windows version on the desktop but after the uninstall I was left with this:
Windows Version
Worrying, I think you'll agree!
Fortunately, a manual reboot cleared this so it would seem that the system just stopped short of a final restart.
The good news was that DreamScene was now available after uninstalling SP1
DeamScene - no SP1
I must admit, that I'm still not convinced that this is useful or desirable as I feel you are wasting valuable CPU cycles on a distraction.
Anyway, SP1 is now reinstalled and seemed to take just as long to reinstall as the first time although I didn't time it. I would expect the prerequisites to remain on the system after uninstalling the service pack and surely this would make things a bit quicker second time around - not so.
The second install left me with Windows Explorer showing that my C drive was getting low on space. Now, SP1 needs at least 5GB of drive space in order to be installed (ouch) and I had started with over 6GB free on my system partition prior to SP1. A quick check revealed that 2.63GB of temp files had been left in my profile (under C:\Users\Colin\Appdata\Local\Temp) and not cleaned up after the install had completed. This, obviously needs to be addressed.
More to come...
Vista SP1 beta 1.
Microsoft released the first beta of Vista SP1 to testers yesterday and, as I couldn't sleep due to laryngitis, I installed it at about 4am this morning.
I had read Roberts warning about the SP1 standalone installer so duly right-clicked the executable and choose "Run as administrator" so as to keep the install time down a bit and save on the UAC prompts.
The setup wizard warns you that the install may take 30 minutes or more but that appears to be a very conservative estimate based on my experiences and those of others.
SP1 setup wizard
As is always the case with MS software, you have to accept the license agreement
License agreement
Before the service pack itself is copied there are some prerequisites placed on your machine (and it is no doubt also creating a system restore point) - for me this part of the setup tool 21 minutes
SP1 Preparing
I downloaded the "5 language" standalone installer which contained the files below
SP1 files
Update 936330 is obviously the main installer but the others will be the prerequisites which Microsoft may even push out during the normal monthly update cycle so that when SP1 hits that is all you need to do. Brandon Le Blanc has some info on exactly what the prerequisites are.
After the "Preparing for installation section" Windows continued to do the actual install which included no less than four reboots and 46 minutes of not being able to use the PC until it had completed. From the time I right-clicked the installer to the time I was able to log in again it had taken a full 1 hour and 10 minutes - now that's a hefty install!
Microsoft have said that SP1 is not going to add new functionality to Vista and this certainly appears to be the case. In Brandon's post he explains how they have changed the search options to comply with the request that users should be able to determine the default desktop search application - as such the Search link has been removed from the Start menu (but the instant search box is still present).
One small change will stop me diving for the command prompt: the windows defragmenter GUI now has an option to select the drive(s) you want to process both for the scheduled defrag and the manual one - it just goes to show that they ARE listening.
SP1 defrag
Obviously, this is early days yet and I will have to dig through the list of "features" in SP1 in order to properly test it but nothing appears to have broken so far (which can only be a good thing).
Vista SP1 beta imminent?
Over night I received a confirmation email that I am in the Vista SP1 beta. This included the following:
"In addition to previously released updates, SP1 will contain changes focused on addressing specific reliability and performance issues, supporting new types of hardware, and adding support for several emerging standards. SP1 also continues to improve upon the IT administration experience. SP1 is not intended to be a vehicle for releasing new features; however some existing components do gain enhanced functionality in SP1".
Now, it does say that this is just confirmation and that further emails will be received when the service pack is available for download but it's a good indication that SP1 can only be just round the corner.
Watch this space.
UPDATE: a note on Connect states that the confirmation was to allow customers "ample time" to set up their Connect accounts prior to the beta - how long that is remains to be seen ;)
What Gadgets do you use?

So, now that I’ve got a widescreen monitor and can make use of the Vista Sidebar I can’t find any really useful gadgets to put in it.

There are no decent messenger or Media Player gadgets that I can see in the Gallery. I do all my RSS consumption at Bloglines so there is no need for one of those. The Twitter novelty has worn off I’m afraid so I don’t even want to fire up Twadget.

What gadgets do you use? Do you even use the Sidebar? If not, why not?

Windows Vista SP1 beta overview white paper.
Want to know what Vista SP1 will contain? Then download this White Paper which gives you all the details:
Vista SP1 invite turns up.
No sooner did I mention that it looked like I hadn't received an invite for the Vista SP1 beta than the opt-in email pops in.
Vista SP1 beta officially announced - at last!
Well, it's now been all over the web - Microsoft officially announced that the beta for Vista Service Pack 1.
The word is that a beta will be available to testers on Connect in a few weeks (Mary Jo Foley and others have said two) with a go-live date of Q1 2008. Word also has it that the invitations to the beta have already gone out  - looks like I haven't got one if that's the case :(
Interestingly, Windows Server 2008 has also been put back to Q1 2008 - presumably for these to coincide - and Windows XP Service Pack 3 (which is due to be an update roll-up only) will also be in testers hands in the next few weeks. This is going to be a busy period.
I fail to understand OEMs sometimes.
We have been looking for a cheap laptop for the kids to use now that they are getting a bit older. We don't want anything too flash just enough for them to get on with some school work etc. - as long as it's got built in WiFi we're pretty happy (try finding one that hasn't these days).
Now, all the laptops we have been looking at ship with one version of Windows Vista or another (Home Basic or Home Premium) and I think everyone agrees that the best way to get any kind of decent performance from Vista - especially on cheaper hardware - is to put in some more RAM. So why is it that so many OEMs still insist on shipping machines with only 512MB of RAM? And even worse are those with onboard graphics that take some of this leaving you with even less!
512MB may be the minimum spec for Vista but it's going to run like the proverbial dog. It costs OEMs absolute peanuts to supply you with 1GB instead, without it you are just going to get a bad impression of the hardware, Vista or both.
A quick thought about the Vista updates.
I was looking through the list of fixes in the compatibility and reliability update and had to re-read the following:
"The computer stops responding or restarts unexpectedly when you play video games or perform desktop operations."
So, what exactly does "perform desktop operations" entail? How far does it go? Is it just limited to file operations or does it encompass anything you do that affects the desktop in some way - background, screen saver or maybe even going to the "switch user" screen?
Could it be that this vagary is responsible for my BSODs (maybe even partly) but the issue wasn't completely resolved in the beta patches?
We can but wonder, but some explanation would be nice.
Debugging inconclusive.
Further to yesterday's post about the BSODs when switching user I downloaded the  so that I could check the mini dumps created by the crashes. I also grabbed with downloadable symbols package for Vista.
Unfortunately, even after removing the beta hotfixes, windbg reported that the symbols were the wrong version. As such, I used the online symbol library by setting the symbol path to:
where c:\websymbols is the local repository for the downloaded symbols.
Checking the mini dump did not give a conclusive result - merely mentioned that the bug code reported was common and normally relates to drivers.
As graphics drivers are frequently a culprit I have ensured that I am running the latest Catalyst drivers for my ATI card (I wasn't previously) and now installed the released versions of the performance and reliability patches. I have also, in the past, run the Vista Memory Diagnostic utility which reported no RAM issues.
We'll see if things improve.
Vista performance & reliability patches released.
The performance and reliability patches recently leaked can't have had too many issues as Microsoft have now officially released them. You can download them from the links in the KB articles below.
Happy patching!
Switch User causes blue screens in Vista.
So, BSODs (Blue Screens of Death) were supposed to be a thing of the past once Vista rolled out. A number of people find that this isn't the case - yours truly included.
I have been experiencing problems when selecting to Switch User from one profile to another and, after a trawl around Google - it seems that others have come across the same problem as well.
I shall have to dig through any memory dumps that get created to see if I can find the culprit.
One particular thread in the Microsoft Forums tends to indicate that video drivers are at fault. I'll be checking my ATI installation.
Initial reactions to the Vista hotfixes.
Microsoft has forced the removal of the leaked files which is good as they are still in beta and the NDA should never have been breached but I have installed them after grabbing them from Connect last night.
Initial impressions are good.
File operation performance is significantly improved. In a very unscientific test I performed the same file copy and had the results below. Both copies were done after a reboot and letting the PC idle and involved copying a 700MB ISO image from one physical drive to another.
Before patches:
Calculating estimated time showed for 15 seconds during the actual copy. It changed to the actual countdown with 5 seconds remaining.
After patches:
Calculating estimated time showed for no more than a second and then changed instantly to the normal countdown.
Mark one up to the fixes.
When using the Windows Energy screen saver in the past (I normally use Aurora) I had noticed that it would take a few seconds to return to the desktop and redraw the screen - the patches claim to fix this. Sure enough, reverting from the screen saver is now instant.
Another benefit I have noticed - which isn't specifically in the fix list but could be related to better memory handling - is with Windows Media Player.
I had been experiencing some issues with audio "popping" while WMP was running in the background - I presumed it was a driver issue and the fact that I'm using onboard audio rather than a dedicated card. Since installing the patches this no longer seems to be happening.
So far, so good!
Vista SP1 performance hotfixes leak.
One of the big bug bears with Vista has been it's performance (or lack of) with file operations. We've all seen it: the time it takes to calculate how long it's going to take to move a file is just as long as the time it takes to actually move it!
File operation performance improvements were slated to be included in SP1 but it seems that a couple of patches have been released to testers and subsequently leaked.
Long Zheng has some good info and links.
I've just checked Microsoft Connect and, sure enough, the patches are available for download so I'll give them a try and let you know how it goes.
UPDATE: Mary Jo Foley does a quick comparison of the patches to the promised features of SP1 here.
Vista SP1 Beta to hit next week?
Mary Jo Foley is reporting that Microsoft are set to ship the first beta of Windows Vista Service Pack 1 some time next week.
After a deafening silence about the subject this is very welcome news. The RTM is expected to be in November which is also the alleged time frame for Windows Server 2008.
For a list of functionality rumoured to be in SP1 see Mary Jo's post here: Vista SP1 beta 1 to launch in mid-July.
Should've known better - the Lexmark nightmare continues.
Herve posted a comment in response to a recent in which I remarked that I'm still getting a lot of comments from users that are unhappy with Lexmark. In the comment he supplied a link to a Lexmark clean-up tool which should completely remove all traces of their driver.
So, I thought it might be a nice idea to completely remove all traces and tidy things up now that I've got the Canon installed. Bad idea!
The tool seems to have trashed Vista. My Start menu is now almost completely empty (and most of those items that remain don't work) a number of applications fail to start and a persistent Spooler Subsystem error keeps popping up.
A system restore did not help.
Thanks Lexmark!
I'll have to use Windows Home Server to do a restore from last nights backup when I get home.
UPDATE: I've managed to get everything restored so am back up and running properly.
Sorry Lexmark, I've had enough.
I've had enough of the Lexmark Z640 not working under Vista so, yesterday, we bought a Canon MP160 all-in-one.
It is Vista certified with the correct drivers in the box. I installed it this morning without a hitch. Everything went as smoothly as you would hope.
I think Lexmark may have lost me as a customer.
Vista users still not happy with Lexmark.
Apart from the reams of spam, the one subject I get more comments about that anything is that of Windows Vista and Lexmark printer drivers - see here and here.
It seems that people either still have not got drivers for their particular printer, or that that have been provided on the Lexmark website (just as in my case) just do not work properly - if at all!
I am still unable to print from Vista with my Lexmark z640 and have given up removing/reinstalling the drivers although, after some printing issues we have been having at work, there is one more thing I can try. As well as manually trashing all drivers files etc. we have recently been having to remove references to printers in the registry to cure corrupt driver issues (otherwise the drivers don't get reinstalled correctly) so I might try this. The location containing the reference is as follows:
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Print\Environments\Windows NT x86\Drivers
If that doesn't work it looks as though the only option may be to reinstall Vista (so long as I'm not going to have any issues with re-activating it).
We'll see what happens.
Vista tips and tricks.
Filed under "not to self" so that I can revert back to it...
This thread in the Neowin forums has all sorts of interesting tips and tricks for Vista that you might find useful.
Windows Mobile Device Center updated to v6.1
Microsoft yesterday release an updated version of the Windows Mobile Device Center (WMDC) for Windows Vista.
Along with the usual bug fixes are new features to support Windows Mobile 6 (file syncing among them). Here's the full list from the website:
  • Windows Mobile 6 feature support
    • Information Rights Management activation - Automatically configure the Windows Mobile 6 device to open IRM-protected documents and files
    • HTML mail – Set up your Windows Mobile 6 device to sync HTML-formatted mail
    • Certificate Enrollment - Acquire certificates through the PC the Windows Mobile 6 device is currently connected to
    • Allow data connections on the Windows Mobile 6 device when connected to the PC
    • File synchronization for smartphones – Synchronize files with your Windows Mobile 6 devices, including both touch screen and non-touch screen devices
  • Automatic device authentication - Connect the Windows Mobile device to the PC without the need to enter the device-lock PIN every time upon connect
  • Product Registration - Register your Windows Mobile device and get connected to information and offers available for your device

Here's the registration screen you now get:

WMDC 6.1 registration

You can grab the update here: .

Back to XP, and SP3 can't come quick enough.
I'm stepping back to XP on the Tablet - at least until I get a RAM upgrade (I plan to go up to 1GB from 512MB).
The performance under Vista has been significantly worse than under the betas and, even though I've disabled SuperPreFetch the hard drive is still being thrashed. This may well be having a huge impact on battery life as I can sit and watch the battery drain.
So, no Vista for the time being.
I'm currently going through the updates for XP (post SP2) and have a total of 94 to apply. Yes, 94! XP SP3 can't come quick enough if you've got to go through that every time you do an install, and there'll only be more before SP3 hits next year.
Device emulator for Windows Sideshow.
Kevin Tofel over at jkOnTheRun has posted about the Device Emulator for Windows SideShow which lets developers test out SideShow functionality without having access to a device. Let’s face it, devices with a SideShow display are few and far between at present.
Just like Kevin, I’m the type of guy who likes to grab hold and have a play just so that I can see what it’s all about so I installed the emulator and took a number of shots so you too can have a look at a part of Vista that you normally wouldn’t get to see. The emulator looks quite a bit like the SideShow display on the Asus W5F2 SideShow laptop with a four-way directional pad and central OK button, then an additional Menu and Back button:
Device Emulator
Once launched the device shows in the SideShow Control Panel allowing you to get access to the settings that you normally can't see which give plenty of options for configuring your device (click for full size images):
Control Panel     Device Settings

Gadget order

The emulator (and presumably actual hardware SideShow devices) includes an About Gadget which gives you the lowdown on exactly what SideShow is and how it operates, and is a pretty good concise run through:
About 1
About 2
Just in case you get bored there's a Solitaire gadget, hmm!
To give you an example of the type of functionality and control you get in such a small package I took a number of shots of the Media Player gadget:
Selection       WMP Library
WMP Menu       WMP Menu 2


WMP Volume

New “Silverlight” DreamScene background.

Brandon LeBlanc (of MSTechToday) has a new home over at the Windows Vista Blog with his Windows Experience Blog devoted to getting the most out of Microsoft's latest Flagship OS and has wasted no time in kicking things off in usual style with an exclusive look at a new DreamScene animated background from the Microsoft Silverlight Team.

View a short video of the background in action or download it for yourself (4:3 and widescreen versions) over at The Windows Experience Blog here: Download Microsoft Silverlight DreamScenes for your desktop!

Thank you for the thank you!
I mentioned a few days ago that I was going to be receiving a copy of Office 2007 and Vista as a thank you for taking part in the Microsoft At Work reader surveys. Well, today they turned up
Thank you
Vista and Office
So thank you for the thank you :)
The article is published!
That's right! My article for a proper publication has now been published and is available in print at all good newsagents.
The article is in the UK magazine Micro Mart (Issue 948 12th - 18th April) and is called Microsoft: Friend or Foe? and is a look at how Microsoft is perceived as a company and whether the negative criticism levied at it is justified.
Unfortunately, I wasn't notified before it went in to print but got an email from Ben last night (thanks mate) letting me know that he had just read it.
The article has caused one reader to respond on the Micro Mart forums with quite a vitriolic rant against my "gag inducing ode to Bill" but that what's I love about the internet - everyone has, and is completely entitled to, their opinion. What really matters, however, is how you air your opinion.
I have been given permission to reproduce the article here but will hold off for a little while.
Strange email from Windows Marketplace.
I received an email from Windows Marketplace saying that I have successfully ordered a Windows Vista Ultimate upgrade and that it is available from my Digital Locker.
What's so strange about that, I hear you say? Well, I've not ordered anything from Windows Marketplace and didn't even have an account!
Now, I did receive an email the other day advising that I would be receiving a copy of Vista and the Office 2007 system after completing the Microsoft At Work reader surveys (for which I am very grateful) so maybe it's something to do with that.
Anyway, I've signed up to Windows Marketplace now but, no surprises, my locker is empty so I've pinged off an email to the Marketplace support team to see if this is kosher.
Gadget lust - HTC Shift.
I woke up this morning to a Bloglines list full of the HTC Shift and, man that looks good!
HTC are best known for making Windows Mobile devices such as the TyTn/Hermes aka my Vario II but we have recently seen a shift (pun intended) towards a larger form factor with the 5" screen Advantage as it's now called - a super-sized Windows Mobile device.
Well, HTC are now going one stage further with a proper UMPC that runs Windows Vista with Aero and everything. The HTC Shift will have a 7" touch screen which flips up, a slide out keyboard, 1GB of RAM, 30GB hard drive and a rumoured 1.2GHz Via processor.
HTC Shift
The screen slide-and-tilt mechanism is very reminiscent of HTC's upcoming TyTn/Hermes replacement - the HTC Kaiser - so this seems to be flavour of the month.
HTC Kaiser
I'm a fan of the UMPC form factor but, although I love using the stylus, I'm a sucker for a keyboard. Consequently, a number of the current UMPC offerings wouldn't really suit me. The HTC Shift, however, looks right on the money and, with HTC's consistently high styling, looks the absolute business.
This needs to come in at a realistic price point, and I need to win the lottery ;)
See more news about it here:
UPDATE: Dave Zatz has supplied jkOnTheRun with some close-ups so check 'em out here: HTC Shift UMPC photo tour.
USB stick too slow for ReadyBoost?
I saw this over at the Windows Vista Magazine website.
By hacking the registry you can use any USB stick for ReadyBoost even if it isn't fast enough. I don't know how much benefit you'd actually get from some of the slower sticks but it's definitely one of those "because I can" moments.
Finally completed my article.
Well, it took a while (and a major re-write) but I've gotten my article finished and submitted. I'll just have to wait and see if it gets accepted.
Windows Home Server restore does the trick.
Rick over at One Man Shouting has demonstrated that the PC restore functionality in Windows Home Server works and not by choice.
It appears that his Vista profile became corrupted so he dived in to the beta with what appears to be great success. It's good to hear.
For a full run through check his post here: Windows Vista dumped my profile, Windows Home Server brought it back.
Windows DreamScene content available.
There may not be any security updates available for March but Vista Ultimate owners have today got some extra content for the DreamScene Ultimate Extra.
DreamScene itself, however, would still appear to be unchanged. The technical preview still seems to place too high a load on my machine - up to 25% CPU usage which is unacceptable for a bit of eye candy.
Still, if you're interested, here's what the new content looks like:
DreamScene 1
DreamScene 2
DreamScene 3
DreamScene 4
UPDATE: the Windows Vista Ultimate website has announced the content pack and also confirmed that this is still the preview of DreamScene.
New versions of existing Vista Ultimate Extras.
It appears that two of the current Ultimate Extras have been updated as both the "BitLocker and EFS Enhancements" and "Hold Em Poker Game" Extras are showing as available for download today.
Updated Ultimate Extras
Long Zheng has called Microsoft out on the price premium people have had to pay in order to get the Ultimate Extras - which so far are less than stellar.
What we need to remember is that it is still only a month since Vista launched to the public at large so we can expect dozens of Extras in such a short time frame but, I do agree with him that there should be more transparency involved.
Consumers need to know what their extra cash is likely to get them and some kind of time line or sneak peak at what's in the offing would be a good way to make consumers feel that they are getting their moneys' worth.
Is that all you've got to worry about?
I'll agree that Windows Vista isn't perfect, in fact there's a few things I'd like changed myself, but some of the niggles that people come up with are beyond the pale.
Take the article "The most annoying things about Windows Vista" published today at the PC World website. Some of their concerns are valid but some are just ridiculous.
Look at the complaint about UAC for example. Do they complain that Vista limits what can be done without intervention? No. Do they complain about UAC prompts themselves? No. The actual basis of the complaint is that the rest of the screen is dimmed in order to draw attention to the UAC dialog.
In the words of the article:
"We thought you guys spent all this time designing a nifty new hardware-accelerated interface for your new OS. And you couldn't come up with something that looks even remotely 21st century for the UAC alerts? Really?"
Isn't that being a bit picky?
Another point that falls firmly in the realms of "picky" is the fact that desktop icons are larger than with XP by default and therefore an upgrade messes up your desktop arrangement. Sorry, but if you are this anal about the way your PC looks why are you upgrading in the first place?
Sometimes you just can't win. The article complains that Windows and IE will ask you if you want to install or download something as such things can be potentially damaging. Now you just know that these would be the first people to bitch if IE didn't warn you and allowed you to install something which took over your PC. Isn't it better to err on the side of caution? Sometimes people need protecting from themselves - that's a good thing!
There are also complaints that things are different from XP. Heaven forbid! After all, if you always want to keep everything the same then you'd expect all versions of a piece of software to operate in exactly the same way and stifle creativity. I hate to think what these people make of Office 2007.
I'm all for pointing out genuine issues and suggesting ways which can be used to improve the user experience but picking holes to get a headline goes too far.
Lexmark driver issue.
I'm going to mail Lexmark tonight once I've got the serial number but here are the details of the problem I am having:
I initially had intermittent issues with printer not responding which required restarting the print spool service but after changing both colour and B&W cartridges it is as though the Vista driver does not want to recognise the change.
The Lexmark Solution Center always seems to think that the cartridges are empty even after going through the process of installing a new cartridge and printing the printer alignment page. Consequently, the printer is reporting as offline.
The drivers and Lexmark software have been removed and reinstalled repeatedly to no avail.
This has to be a software issue (and not a problem with the printer detecting the cartridges correctly) as I can boot in to XP and everything works fine.
I'll let you know the response.
Windows Vista "DreamScene" Ultimate Extra Preview available.
Patch Tuesday saw a technology preview of the Windows Vista Ultimate Extra "DreamScene" made available as was originally announced at CES.
DreamScene allows you to play MPG or WMV movie files as an animated desktop wallpaper and I originally wondered whether this was really worth it.
After having a quick look I'm still not convinced it's really a worthwhile feature. Yes, it's a nice gimmick and and example of the native power of Windows Vista but are we really going to use it?
Anyway, once installed you enable DreamScene through the Desktop Background section of Personalization
 Enable DreamScene
Once enabled you are then able to right-click a video file of the supported type and set it as your desktop background:
 Right click video
You can stop and start the DreamScene at any time just by right-clicking on the desktop and choosing the relevant option:
Pause DreamScene   Play DreamScene
Now, I know that this is a technology preview but I was a bit concerned at the resource usage I experienced while a video was playing as the desktop background.
I chose to use the default "Energy" style video that ships with the preview:
 Energy DreamScene
Without DreamScene running the Explorer.exe process was using approximately 30MB of RAM and as shown peaking at 6% CPU usage.
 Usage no DreamScene
With DreamScene running the resource usage was radically different: about 81MB of RAM and peaking at 27% CPU
 Usgae with DreamScene
If a video desktop background is going to take up a quarter of my CPU resources then I'm sorry but I'm just not interested! Hopefully, this will get addressed with the final release.
Vista and drivers.
A lot has been said about device drivers for Windows Vista lately mainly because of the potential class action lawsuit against Nvidia.
I blogged quite a bit about the frustrations of having to wait for drivers from Lexmark for my printer until they finally turned up earlier this month. All looked good but I have been experiencing problems with the printer hanging and reporting offline when, yep you guessed it, it's not.
Add to this the issue I reported about the graphics performance warning I received the other day and you start to notice a pattern. So, what's that got to do with it?
Someone calling themselves lorgor commented that this might be a driver issue so I should revert back to the drivers that were installed by Vista itself. In for a penny I decided there was nothing to lose and reverted back from the ATI RTM drivers to the ones on the Vista DVD and would you believe it:
 No issues
It definitely looks like there are consistent issues with device drivers on Vista.
What more does Vista want?
I may not have a top of the range, latest model PC but with a 3GB P4 HT processor, 2GB of RAM and a Radeon X700 graphics card it does pretty well and achieves a Windows Experience Index score of 4.0
 Windows Experience Index
I was therefore really surprised when I decided to take a look at the various options in Advanced Tools. Before even getting to any of the tools I was greeted by the message:
 Performance issues
"View details" leads to:
 Visual Settings
So, with a Windows Experience Index of 4.0 for "Desktop performance for Windows Aero" I am still advised that I should turn off transparency or switch to the Vista Basic theme.
Come on Vista, what more do you want?
UPDATE: just as an experiment I did what I was advised: closed all unnecessary windows, turned off transparency and switched to the Vista Basic theme and you know what? The message was still there!
Anyone else have this?
Most popular old items.
Two of my old posts are requested far more often than any of the others and these are:
Now that Vista is publicly available it's not surprising that some people with less than adequate hardware may want to try to force Glass on their device (a laptop with an integrated graphics chipset for example) although I'm pretty sure the registry hack I used during the betas was killed off.
It's surprising to see so many requests for the OMA issue, I wouldn't have thought that quite so many people would experience the same issue. As such I have decided to update and re-post the item and have taken a fresh screenshot so that it will be complete.
More fatal Windows Vista exploits?
You've just got to read this: More fatal Windows Vista exploits.
Too funny!
At last! Lexmark Z640 drivers.
I am just downloading the Vista drivers for my Lexmark printer (the Z640 model) so I shall get them installed and see what happens - I'll let you know.
Andy has just commented that his drivers are still not available - checking the US website still states February for his model (x1180) so they've got a little while yet but it's still not good enough.
Vista RTM has been around since November so OEMs have had plenty of time to get to grips with their new drivers. No wonder people are getting so upset about this.
UPDATE: the new drivers didn't want to connect to the printer on ther server so I have moved the printer locally again instead an everything seems to working ok.
Getting round the Vista upgrade issue.
People have been up in arms about no longer being able to do a "clean" install with an upgrade version of Windows Vista but now there is a slight workaround.
You still have to perform an install of Windows and then do the upgrade but, as Paul Thurrott points out you don't have to install a different version of Windows first.
Instead, you can install the upgrade version without inserting a CD key (to give you the 30 day trial) then reboot with the Vista upgrade DVD and perform an in place upgrade over the trial.
You still have to do two installs but at least you only need one disc.
Windows Vista vs Mac OSX - the debate.
You may recall that I posted a while back that Robert Scoble was planning on getting a few people together for a "smart person's debate of OSX v Vista".
He's only gone and done it and in a BIG way! There have been 2 hours of video posted. WOW!
If you're interested in hearing the thoughts of Fred Davis, Harry McCracken, Sam Levin and Jeremy Toeman (check Scoble's blog for details of who they are) then head straight over and get all the gossip: Windows Vista vs. OSX debate now up.
Microsoft stole my thunder ;)
I had this great rant planned asking why we're getting more and more drivers, updates and ultimate extras and now even Tablet PC downloads available for Vista but the Windows Mobile Device Center Drivers were still in beta.
I was going to ask what sort of message that sent to those trying to plan a mobile messaging solution?
But MS have ruined all that today.
The RTM version of Windows Mobile Device Center Drivers are now available for download and it's about time to!
Grab them here:

UPDATE: the has now been updated as well.


Tablet PC downloads for Vista.
Microsoft are quick off the mark and have made the following downloads for Tablet PCs available for Vista:
Experience Pack: This includes the apps -
Media Transfer
Copy or stream media files from your home computer to your Tablet PC, so that you can enjoy your favorite music, videos, or pictures wherever you go.

Ink Crossword
Solve crosswords on your Tablet PC using your tablet pen. Twelve puzzles come with Ink Crossword. You can also download a free daily puzzle and purchase more puzzle packs online.

Equation Writer
Easily add mathematical expressions to your papers. Handwrite a math equation, and then convert it into a neatly typewritten image to paste into a report or a presentation.

Ink Flash Cards
Create flash cards to help you learn facts or study for an exam. Handwrite a question on the front of a card and put an answer on the back. Draw, insert graphics, and add text, too.
Ink Desktop: If you have a Tablet PC, you’ll love using Ink Desktop. It’s like having a portable dry-erase board on your screen all of the time. Whenever you want, you can jot down a phone number, directions, or top priorities for the day.
Go grab 'em.
Launch day came and went.
So, the launch day for Windows Vista and Microsoft Office System 2007 came and went yesterday but, for obvious reasons, I couldn't keep up with what was going on.
It's great that these are now out there, available for the public to buy at last - I think we'll all agree that it's been a long 5 years as far as Vista is concerned.
It's been great fun to watch both Vista and Office grow during the course of the betas and I'm glad that others can now share in their delights.
The latest edition of the Microsoft At Work newsletter popped in to my Inbox this morning (the online version hasn't updated yet) and it was good to see the following:
"The best way to appreciate the improvements is to try the software yourself. From today, you'll be able to experience Windows Vista and the 2007 Microsoft Office system in an interactive demo that will be running on desktops and laptops in the PC aisles of PC World, Currys, Currys.Digital, Comet, John Lewis and Staples.

Live demonstrations will also take place on Fridays and Saturdays up to the end of April in many stores."
I'm not sure what format these demos are going to take but it is great to see this sort of thing happening.
If you are still wondering what sort of things in Vista can improve your computing experience then why not check out this article at the Windows Vista Magazine website: 19 essential get-started tips for Windows Vista (why couldn't they have made it a nice round 20?) which includes things like Photo Gallery, Search and Search Folders.
Getting details of updates within Vista.
As Craig commented you can view the details of any update within the Vista Windows Update client by right-clicking on it:
 Update Right Click
But, as you can see, that's not all you can do. The details from the Ultimate Extra above look like this:
 Update details.
and you also get the option to copy those details to the clipboard resulting in a very faithful reproduction of the information:
BitLocker and EFS enhancements
Download size: 629 KB
You may need to restart your computer for this update to take effect.
Update type: Optional
This Windows Ultimate Extra includes two tools that make it easier to use some of the security features that come with Windows Vista Ultimate: Windows BitLocker Drive Preparation Tool, and Secure Online Key Backup for your BitLocker recovery key and EFS certificates.
More information:
Cool eh?
The rest of the Vista updates.
Just trying to keep my mind occupied so here's the rest of the updates available for Vista:
The Windows Vista Application Compatibility Update: KB929427
An update is available for Windows Error Reporting in Windows Vista to make sure that problem reports are sent only after you have granted permission: KB930857
You may be prompted to activate Windows Vista on a computer on which Windows Vista activation was not previously required: KB931573
Still no RTM version of the Windows Mobile Device Center though.
It must be nearly launch time.
If you're running Windows Vista then check Windows Update as a number of updates have been made available to install for the first time.
Additionally, if you are running Ultimate edition, two Ultimate Extras are also available: BitLocker and EFS Enhancements and the Hold Em poker game.
  Vista Updates
(Click for full size image)
I'll have to check out what each of the KB articles is, but one of them is probably the fix for IE7 where the phishing filter causes performance issues when you have a number of pages open - indeed it is: KB928089.
I'll also post a few screen shots of the poker game in the morning.
UPDATE: couldn't resist it. Here you go - click 'em:
 Hold Em 1
 Hold Em 2
UPDATE 2: KB929735 relates to Advanced Search and using a Japanese Calendar format but the others aren't on yet.
No more "clean" upgrades?
With previous versions of Windows you could perform a "clean install" upgrade of Windows by booting from your upgrade CD and just inserting your previous version when prompted. This made life very simple but was open to a lot of abuse.
Microsoft have, therefore, decided to change the way an upgrade operates to prevent such abuse - and who can blame them.
Now, if you want to perform an upgrade to Vista you must first have Windows XP installed before doing an in place upgrade.
Yes, it takes a bit longer but the upgrade process has actually improved greatly. Instead of the true upgrade that previous Windows versions used to do, Vista setup gathers old OS and user settings and data and stores them before wiping the old install and doing the new install in it's place. It then re-applies the settings and data stored from the original version of Windows so, in effect, every upgrade is now a "clean" install. (See a full explanation here)
So, gone are the dodgy "merged" upgrades (which always seemed to go a bit flaky) and welcome to the new supercharged upgrade.
UPDATE: wow, this really seems to have some people's backs up. For example, George Ou over at ZDNet says that this was:
another one of those "what were you thinking" moments for Microsoft management similar to their bone headed decision to lock the retail version of Vista to one hardware migration.
He has a poll at the bottom of his article which is currently running at only 10% for "No, Microsoft didn't do anything wrong".
What's all the fuss about? When you consider how easy it is to get an XP ISO image can you blame MS for wanting to protect their revenues?
The ActiveWin Windows Vista RTM Review.
Via Andre.
Everything you wanted to know about Windows Vista but were afraid to ask! Well, maybe not but ActiveWin's Vista RTM review is pretty comprehensive and quite large covering various aspects of Microsoft's new OS including: activation, installation, Media Center, Windows Mail, IE7, the SideBar and lots more.
If you've been living in a cave for the past few years there are plenty of screenshots so that you can get a feel for the product. And it's all just in time for the public release.
Here we go again.
Reuters reports that a "coalition of rivals" are alleging that Microsoft have not learnt from their mistakes and that Vista is just perpetuating the same practices that the European Union found to be illegal in the decision against the company which resulted in the 'N' editions of Windows XP.
The circus looks to be due to start again even though Microsoft will be offering N versions of some of the SKUs to met the requirements laid out in the decision.
I don't know about you but I'm getting bored with the whole thing.
Lexmark and Vista drivers - an update.
Brian Doyle left a comment to my earlier post voicing the frustrations that a lot of people are probably feeling at the moment with regards to the availability of Vista Drivers for Lexmark printers.
I was originally advised on 20th November last year that "Lexmark will have Windows Vista drivers available for download from our website by the end of the month" but that date came and went with little activity.
The drivers for my printer (Z640) originally said coming soon, then January 2007 and now February 2007:
 Lexmark status
As Brian says: are we supposed to wait "with a non functioning printer, or do we have to go out a buy another brand of Printer and say Bye Bye Lexmark".
Surely, there's been plenty of time to sort this kind of thing out.
Why are hardware manufacturers waiting for Vista to launch before ensuring their drivers are available? If you are looking to buy hardware and are planning what to get to ensure Vista compatibility then you are bound to go with the manufacturers that have already got their act together. This doesn't make good business sense to me.
Configure Vista's BitLocker - a best practices guide.
Martin Kiaer has written a two part Best Practices guide to configuring the new BitLocker drive encryption functionality in Windows Vista.
If you want to know a bit more about this new feature and how it works then you should make a point of reading this series:
BitLocker is not something I am overly familiar with so this made interesting reading.
Why no Windows Family Discount outside of North America?
Nick White posted some Vista purchasing news over at the Vista Team Blog last week including "Windows Anytime Upgrade" and the much anticipated "Windows Family Discount" which was called for by the tech community to make life better for multi-PC households.
Windows Anytime Upgrade allows a consumer to upgrade from one Vista SKU to a higher one simply by purchasing a new key which will unlock the specific functionality (Vista includes all functionality out of the box but the SKU you get is determined by the key you use to install it). The good news is that "The program will be available in the US, Canada, Europe and Japan".
Windows Family Discount let's you buy two copies of Windows Vista Home Premium as a significantly reduced rate ($49.99 per copy) if you have purchased a retail copy of Windows Vista Ultimate (either full or upgrade versions).
Great news, that is until you read on and see that the offer is only valid in North America (US and Canada).
Okay, Microsoft is primarily a US company but why not open this up to more locations? I'm not going to get in to the whole "relative pricing" thing but if there is no Family Discount outside of North America then the rest of the world, by default, is being charged more if they require multiple copies within a single household.
Let's hope that this gets opened up.
WMDC blues - looking forward to RTM.
So, only 7 days until Vista RTM and I'm assuming that the Windows Mobile Device Center will go RTM at the same time - if not, why not?
I mention this as I experienced a problem after returning from Disneyland. Sal wanted to get her photos on to the PC but nothing happened when here phone was connected via USB and the Windows Mobile Device Center (WMDC) would not open.
The sync center did not recognise that the device was connected, neither did Media Player.
I initially tried reinstalling the  and re-connected her phone. After this it recognised that a device had been connected and installed a driver but WMDC, Sync Center and WMP still did not acknowledge that it was there. I wondered if it was an issue with both of our phones being the same but it would also not acknowledge my phone under her profile.
The next step was to check running processes. The following were running under my profile:
  • wmdc.exe (despite the Center not being open)
  • wmdhost.exe
  • mobsync.exe
My instant reaction was that the processes may be causing an issue so I ended each of them.
Straight away, Sal's phone was correctly recognised and I was able to establish a partnership with it under her profile. I could then also return to my profile and reconnect my phone and the WMDC then operated correctly when switching back and forth between the two profiles.
This had never previously come to light as Sal had not needed to connect her phone to the PC since the move to Vista. Hopefully, this kind of issue will not occur in the RTM version.
Windows Vista and Office 2007 will be available to download - legally!
Last week, the Windows Marketplace Team announced that both Windows Vista upgrades and Office 2007 SKUs will be available for purchase and download directly from the Windows Marketplace website.
This is a major step forward and, to be honest, it's about time Microsoft opened up this avenue. In a way, it's a shame that the Vista offerings are upgrade only but at least the Office SKUs are full version.
There are no details as to how they will be offered (will the downloads be in ISO form) so we shall have to wait and see exactly how this operates. It would be a shame if this great idea was ruined by having to re-install XP first and then re-do the download to upgrade back to Vista should you need to wipe your PC for any reason.
The new face of Origami.
You may have seen screenshots of the new "Origami Experience" - the new launcher app for Vista that replaces/updates the UMPC Touch Pack - as they filtered out of CES but now Both GottaBeMobile and jkOnTheRun have video demos of this new bit of software aimed at making the user experience much nicer on a UMPC with Vista installed.
 Origami Experience
You can check out the Video from here: Origami Experience InkShow on an Asus R2H Ultra Mobile PC.
And the one from jkOnTheRun here: jkOTR Mobile Media Edition 30: The Origami Experience.
You can also see some good info and screenshots over at the Origami Project Blog here and here, as well as a video and interview at
UMPCs and Vista - a follow-up.
Steve from CarryPad has left a comment to my previous post about UMPCs not being able to run certain apps included in Vista saying that I (and others) have missed the point.
I agree with him to an extent but can see why MS have chosen the route they have. I have replied with my own comment but thought that the issues this raises deserve their own post.
The hardware requirements to run Aero have been thrown about so much that this other matter seems to have been overlooked. Even in the hardware requirements section of the Vista page it talks about Aero but there is no mention of anything else.
Yes, UMPCs should technically be able to do everything (they can run Movie Maker in XP, for example) Microsoft have taken the decision to boost the functionality in the included apps which has resulted in the increase in hardware required and they are presumably happy with this decision as UMPCs have been marketed primarily as a companion device rather than a primary computer.
The real issue with this, however, is the lack of information available about this. You need to know what you can and can't do prior to purchase so that you can make a more informed choice.
Even the Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor makes no reference to Movie Maker or Windows DVD Maker (I ran it on a work PC which I knew was not Premium Ready).
 Upgrade Advisor
So, come on Microsoft, provide full information so that consumers can make a full and informed choice when considering an upgrade.
UMPCs won't run all Vista apps - big news?
James Kendrick has linked to items on CarryPad and jkkmobile which point out that a lot of UMPCs currently on the market won't run all of the apps included in Windows Vista - the two in question are Windows Movie Maker and Windows DVD Maker. Both require version 2.0 (or later) vertex shaders and version 2.0 pixel shaders which (along with DX9 support) are the requirements for Glass.
This is something I have mentioned repeatedly in connection with Tablet PCs but, to be honest, I don't see why there is suddenly such a fuss over it in relation to UMPCs.
Warner Crocker over at GottaBeMobile has a healthy attitude over this and says that "tradeoffs are many in the mobile scene and will continue to be so".
While it would be nice to do some video editing on the road with a UMPC you really can't expect current units to give you the power you need in such a small package. My concern over this issue was for those using their Tablet PCs as their primary - and sometimes only - computer and this is not a position UMPC users are generally going to find themselves in whereas a number of Tablet owners do not own another PC. UMPCs are, after all, intended to be companion devices
Most Tablet PCs are not Vista Premium Ready so will have these problems and there is not much you can do about it other than buy a new unit. If you have bought a UMPC with your eyes wide open, fully aware of the specs then I don't think you can really be in a position to complain.
Windows Live OneCare 1.5 available early?
Kevin Tofel asked over at jkOnTheRun: Did Windows Live OneCare 1.5 soft-launch?
I decided to investigate this for myself and installed it - on Vista as v1.1 does not support Windows Vista. Sure enough, the About information confirmed Kevin's findings: it appears that v1.5 is now available before the 30th Jan due date.
 About OneCare
Looking at the activation page as well it does give the supported countries in Europe as it correctly determined that I was in the UK.
 Subscribe (click for full size image).
Despite receiving a complimentary years' subscription I won't actually be using Windows Live OneCare but that is NOT because I think it's a bad product.
UPDATE: Stephen Boots (MVP) has confirmed over at the OneCare forums that all new trial installs will be the new 1.5 version.
UK schools advised not to upgrade.
The British Education Communications and Technology Association (BECTA) released a report last week advising UK schools that there was no reason to upgrade to Vista and Office 2007 at present.
BECTA argued that a "persuasive business case for the level of investment needed to deploy the products" was needed before they would change their recommendation.
The reasoning behind the recommendation is as follows:
Office has no "must-have" features for education and is geared towards businesses and there are concerns over file compatibility with the new version (despite being able to set Office apps to save in current 2003 formats by default). Also, schools should not deploy Office 2007 until it will interoperate with products that use the ODF file format such as OpenOffice.
Because security in XP took a while to develop the implication is that Vista is going to be high-risk to begin with even though it has been hailed as more secure than XP SP2 and even had input from the NSA. They also argue that around a quarter of the new features (such as IE7 and WMP11) can be downloaded for XP so why upgrade?
BECTA is due to release a final report this time next year but by that time UK schools will already be behind their counterparts in other countries. Personally, I find this short sighted and the arguments a bit thin.
What better excuse do you need than to educate. Surely, keeping our schools up to date should be a high priority or how can we expect to compete. The education system in the UK is constantly criticised for under performing so why not go out on a limb and provide our students with an advantage.
First impact of Vista on work.
I had a doctor's appointment on Friday morning and by the time I got back it would have been pointless travelling to work. As such, it was agreed that I could remote in from home and do what I could from there.
The method of connecting to the PC in the office involves a wrapper around a normal remote desktop connection but, due to the changes in the Vista RDP client around establishing the authenticity of a remote machine, I could not connect and had to resort to Windows XP (good job I'm still dual-booting).
I checked this morning and an additional option for connection with the Vista client has now been enabled so I won't need to resort to XP in future.
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