Archive for the ‘Microsoft’ Category

Windows 7 Beta 1: I’m not impressed

Sunday, January 18th, 2009

I am not impressed with Windows 7 Beta 1. While virtually every reviewer, including my friend and Computerworld‘s lead Windows editor and reviewer, Preston Gralla, is for the most part praising Windows 7, Beta 1 is every bit the pig that Windows Vista is. How could reviewers be missing that? The earlier Alpha was fast — even I said so. This beta is not.

For those of you who downloaded the new Windows 7 beta, try launching two Windows at once or loading two Internet Explorer windows. Try deleting one large folder of files, and then while that’s taking forever to delete, try deleting another. Or really anything that involves walking and chewing bubble gum. Like Windows Vista before it, Windows 7 Beta 1 is sluggish, glitchy, and inconsistent. It may be fast for a while, here and there, but as soon as you really press it, performance folds up like a house of cards.

It took me 30 minutes to figure out how to avoid using the brain-dead “HomeGroup” feature to share files and folders on a wireless network. Windows 7 kept telling me that it was sharing the files on the “domain” that was the workstation name of my Windows 7 computer, not the workgroup name on my network (you know, like, “Workgroup”). In fact, there’s no place that I can find within the Network and Sharing Center to create or change the workgroup name. In other words, Microsoft removed this ability in Windows 7, since Vista’s Network and Sharing Center had it. Eventually, I just rebooted Windows 7 and it started recognizing the workgroup name of the other computers connected to it (I wanted to see whether the incorrect workgroup name was a bug or a feature — it was a bug). Yes, you can still change the workgroup name several levels deep under the System Control Panel, but that’s not even slightly intuitive for the uninitiated.

I suppose I should score something in Windows 7’s favor because I was at least able to network with Beta 1, something I gave up on with the Alpha version. Microsoft still doesn’t get networking. In trying to make it more and more a wizard process, it has needlessly complicated it for people who already know what they’re doing. It comes down to this, if the only way we’re being given tools to network requires us to use the HomeGroup, the new name for the Windows Networking Wizard, something is awry. HomeGroup assigns you a cryptic password which you must “write down” to remember, and every computer on your network has to use it. You can’t change this password. And, as with the Alpha version, I don’t see a way to network using HomeGroup with a Linux or Mac machine. (For additional information on the operation of Homegroup, please see the more recent post, Windows 7 Homegroup not so hot in Beta 1.)

The new taskbar, missing from the Alpha code, wasn’t worth the wait. It’s not special. The windows-management features first shown in the Alpha are pretty cool. But the new taskbar is a pale imitation of the Mac’s Dock feature. I suppose that if you’ve never used the Mac’s Dock, you’ll find this innovative. But if you have, you’ll recognize the fact that Microsoft hasn’t improved on it in any meaningful way.

For pictures of the new Windows 7 Beta 1 features, including the new taskbar, see the image gallery for Preston’s Gralla’s Computerworld review of Windows 7 Beta 1.

Other new features include Jump Lists (prettier context menus with new functions) and Aero Peek (yet another way to look behind opened windows). But let me expose this for what it is: Fluffy UI stuff to help make you feel good about a warmed over version of Windows Vista with a new name. Taken as a whole, the changes so far shown in Windows 7 are minor.

In Beta 1, I continue to be happy with total gag order Microsoft gave User Account Control (UAC) by default. It makes using Windows 7 far less annoying. But taking away a bad idea also isn’t that big a deal. You could turn off UAC in Vista too.

Yes, Windows 7 Beta 1 is better than Vista, but if Microsoft doesn’t do serious work on the next version of Windows’ ability to run tasks simultaneously, on software quality, on adding that feeling of effortlessness that the Alpha displayed, I won’t be likely to recommend it. Microsoft needs to do well with this version of Windows. It needs to change the perception of what it’s like to use Windows. Beta 1 is not confidence inspiring in that direction. And for those of you wondering, I clean installed these new Windows 7 bits on the same machine I used for my Alpha review. While no barn burner, it’s a respectable 2.0 GHz Core Duo with a decent graphics subsystem. I purchased it in 2006 to evaluate Windows Vista’s Media Center functionality.

Beta 1 is a prerelease version of Windows 7, so I’m not drawing conclusions this early. But having reviewed every beta and gold release of Windows since Windows 3.0, I’m seeing the beginning of a pattern I’ve seen before: Windows gets slower and less responsive as it gets closer to being released.

At some point you have to just say no to more features and services that build unsustainable overhead. When you use other operating systems — such as Linux and OS X — it becomes clear that Microsoft and its OEM PC manufacturers really don’t care about the fact that Windows is perennially overtaxed.

Reader Email: Issues with Windows XP SP2C, and InfoWorld’s ‘Save XP’ Campaign

Monday, January 21st, 2008

The following is an excerpt from an email message sent to me by Dan McCoy, an SNB reader and VAR who configures and sells Windows XP PCs to businesses. The issue McCoy details is apparently localized to OEM Windows XP Pro SP2C CDs. But since Windows XP is due to stop being sold in the retail channel, OEM and possibly some other editions of Windows XP not generally available to the public will be the only ones sold after the end of this month.

Microsoft released a revision of Windows XP Service Pack 2 called Windows XP SP2C recently. The media for SP2C is not interchangeable with previous versions (SP2B, SP2, SP1, and XP original). You used to be able to take a PC that came with any Windows XP PC and use any of the same class (home or pro) media to do a fresh install and still use that code on the COA (certificate of authority) on the side of the case. Not any more. The codes that come with SP2C media only work with SP2C media and vice versa — forcing people to buy new copies of Windows XP in order to get the latest update.

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Windows XP or Vista?

Saturday, December 1st, 2007

There are two main types of Windows users in the world. Which kind are you:

Windows XP or Windows Vista?

The recent news that testers at Devil Mountain Software found Microsoft’s beta of Windows XP Service Pack 3 to be 10% faster than XP SP2 has pushed me over the edge.

I honestly find no advantage to Windows Vista, and there are some downsides. For example, no matter what Vista advocates say, Vista requires Vista-level hardware. Pentium M/Centrino single-core notebook hardware just doesn’t run it well. Pentium 4 desktop hardware runs it better, but usually that class of hardware needs a video upgrade. I’ve personally seen instabilities with the shipping version of the Vista code: applications freezing, Windows services slowing to a crawl, even OS crashes. I’m not saying everyone is having these problems, but I see no real improvement over Windows XP. While the architecture of Vista is a little better, Vista adds a lot of overhead to support quite a bit of new and sometimes questionable functionality. Vista is a lot more complex than Windows XP. It’s probably more secure, but it still needs a raft of third-party security software and hardware. I don’t trust its anti-malware protection or its firewall. And it doesn’t have an onboard antivirus product.

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Hands On: Windows Vista Service Pack 1 Beta

Saturday, September 29th, 2007

It will come as no to surprise to those of you who’ve been at this computer technology thang for a while that — given that Vista sales haven’t been great over the nearly one year since Microsoft released it to manufacturing on November 8, 2006 — Microsoft has to do something. And that something appears to be Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1), which the company intends to ship sometime in the first quarter of 2008.

On Friday I interviewed Microsoft Vista SP1 production manager David Zipkin. And while Zipkin insisted that SP1 isn’t just a roll-up of patches, updates, and security fixes that you’re already getting on Windows Update, he was hard pressed to tell just what exactly is new in the forthcoming service pack. The truth is there are new things, but very few that you or I really care about.

In the end, maybe it’s all a moot point anyway, since most people will get SP1 when they buy a new PC or download it as part of Windows Update, where it will be about a 55MB download. Microsoft will be distributing it on DVD, both to enterprises with license agreements and to consumers who are willing to sign up for it on a Web form, pay a modest fee for shipping, and wait several weeks. But my guess is that waiting won’t be a huge hardship.

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Microsoft’s WGA Comes Back to Life, Unbidden

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007

Microsoft’s sad attempt to fight software piracy at the expense of its ordinary end users continues to leave me cold. For the second time since last year, Microsoft released a new update of the WGA (Windows Genuine Advantage) Notifications code that attempts to install on your system as part of the Windows Update process. This is the case even if you have previously told Windows Update that you do not want to receive the WGA Notifications update.

Microsoft’s only excuse is: But hey, this is a new and improved version of WGA Notifications. We know this helps no one but Microsoft, but since we’ve spiffed it up, that means we no longer have to pay attention to the fact that you said you didn’t want to get this code in the past — twice! There was a time when Microsoft was a much better company than this. It truly is a shame that Microsoft is treating Windows users this way.

For more information on how WGA Notifications appears in Windows Update, and how you can prevent this version from installing, read this article from a previous Scot’s Newsletter.