Archive for the ‘Windows’ Category

Windows 7 RC1 Review: A Real-World Analysis

Sunday, May 3rd, 2009

I’ve been working with the Windows 7 RC1 (release candidate 1) for about a week and a half now. Barring unforeseen bugs, I doubt at this point that Microsoft is more than four months away from the release of Windows 7.

Not based on any information from the software giant, my bet is that Microsoft will release to manufacturing (RTM) some time in August. Microsoft is going to want to prime the pumps as early as possible for the holiday season this year. The earlier it ships, the more time it gives OEM PC makers to put together an array of Windows 7 models that are well designed for the new operating system.
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Fixing a Firefox user profile, and Foxmarks

Sunday, March 8th, 2009

SNB reader John Volborth wrote to me with a Firefox problem. My solution worked for him, so I thought I would pass it along:

Question:

I haven’t used Firefox in a while because of a problem I’ve been having. It won’t let me gather any apps. This is the error message:

Could not initialize the application’s security component. The most likely cause is problems with files in your application’s profile directory. Please check that this directory has no read/write restrictions and your hard disk is not full or close to full. It is recommended that you exit the application and fix the problem. If you continue to use this session, you might see incorrect application behaviour when accessing security features.

Is there any help you can offer me? Thanks.

Answer:

I’m not clear on what you mean when you say “it won’t let me gather apps,” but more than likely you have a corrupt Firefox user profile. To solve the problem, you’ll need to delete every file in your Mozilla installation and do a clean install of the latest version of the browser. Some of these files hide in places you might not think to look, so it’s important to follow directions on how to fully remove profile.
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Windows 7 HomeGroup not so hot in Beta 1

Sunday, February 1st, 2009

In a more recent post, I finally got HomeGroup to work — third time is the charm. The fact that I had difficulty with a virtual machine version of Windows 7 is something that I hope Microsoft can resolve. So I think this post is still valid. I will retest virtual installations with later releases of Windows 7.

In an earlier first impression post about Windows 7 Beta 1, I called Microsoft’s new HomeGroup feature brain dead. Well, after further review, I’m standing by that assessment. HomeGroup isn’t working here. The feature feels only partly implemented to me. And, normally I’d forgive Microsoft that foible, given this is Beta 1, except that Microsoft’s top dog for Windows 7 Engineering, Steven Sinofsky, just confirmed that Windows 7 will move straight to a release candidate build, skipping any other betas.

So, why do I say that when so many other reviewers are raving about HomeGroup? Well, here’s my experience.

I started by creating a HomeGroup on my Windows 7 test machine. Then I thoroughly tested networking with several other computers on my network, including a Vista machine, an XP machine, and two Macs. I had no trouble with either Vista or XP, networking the way any Windows user would on a peer network. In that mode, Windows 7 networks exactly like Vista does. All computers, even the Macs, are using the same workgroup name. My Vista and XP machines can file-share back and forth with the Macs quite easily. The Windows 7 machine could not. The Macs can connect to Windows 7 without trouble. Windows 7 sees the Macs but issues a path error when I try to force it to connect to them. I had run into this same Mac problem with my earlier test of Win 7 Beta 1 and the November release of Win 7. Networking is often dicey with beta versions of Windows, so this Mac issue wasn’t a huge surprise.

The only way to test the HomeGroup feature is with two Windows machines running Win 7. Unfortunately, I don’t have another PC available and suitable to be a Windows 7 test machine. So I downloaded Sun’s freely distributed VirtualBox software for the Mac. The hardest part about setting up VirtualBox was locating its Guest Additions (add-on drivers specific to your guest OS). It wasn’t where Sun’s documentation said it was. But there were several variations on the installation directions, and one of them worked. In all other regards, VirtualBox is an impressive product. Anyone who has used either VMware or the Parallels virtualization tools will recognize similarities.

VirtualBox has a pre-configured Windows 7 guest-OS mode, and that made set up easy. It took me only a little over an hour to rig up both VirtualBox and Windows 7 on one of my MacBook Pros.

With the two Windows 7 installations running, I expected to have no problems with HomeGroup. Even though there’s clearly some sort of issue with Windows 7 and Mac networking, the fact that the Macs could connect with Windows 7 left me feeling confident. It’s actually not uncommon for the Mac to have an issue networking with a Windows box while the virtual machine of Windows running on the same Mac has no problems connecting. But if you’re inclined to discount my experience with HomeGroup, this would be the best thing to hang your hat on.

So, with Windows 7 running on the Mac, I proceeded to try HomeGroup. You’re supposed to create your HomeGroup on one machine and then from all other Windows 7 machines, use the Join HomeGroup function. But no matter how hard I tried, the two Windows 7 installations were unable to connect to one another. The Join HomeGroup dialog wouldn’t appear. I tried it in both directions. I also tried creating HomeGroups on both machines and making them use the same password. No go.

Note: It’s possible to change the HomeGroup password after the fact from the Network and Sharing Center or Control Panel. It’s not possible to change the Windows 7-assigned HomeGroup password while you’re initiating HomeGroup.

I probably would have put off posting my less-than-stellar experience with HomeGroup except that I decided to go looking for other people’s experiences, and it was not difficult to find other people having the exact same problems with HomeGroup that I was.

I’m sure that Microsoft will straighten out HomeGroup in most people’s Win 7 installations by the time the operating system ships. I’m sure I will get it to work, too. Although I still sort of doubt that this Windows Networking Wizard on minor steroids will truly obviate the need to fully understand the ins and outs of Windows networking.

One final note: For those of you who read my previous post on Windows 7 and disagreed with me about performance, my MacBook Pro-hosted virtual machine Windows 7 installation seems no faster or slower to me than the other one. Windows 7 feels like Vista to me.

Maybe it just feels faster because you’re not constantly being bombarded with those annoying UAC prompts?

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.

The Best Firewall Software of 2008: Online Armor

Monday, March 24th, 2008

The decision is in. After a year and a half of testing, and with the help of more than a thousand Scot’s Newsletter readers who’ve written detailed descriptions of their software firewall experiences, I’m happy to announce that Tall Emu’s Online Armor 2.1 is The Scot’s Newsletter Blog Best Firewall Software of 2008.

There are many reasons why I’ve selected Online Armor (OA) as the best software firewall for Windows users; the rest of this story delivers the details. But boiled down to a single thought, the most important reason is this: Online Armor offers the best blend of a high degree of protection with a high level of usability.

That may sound simplistic, but in this software category such a balance is the toughest thing for a software development company to achieve. It’s very easy to throw up a blizzard of pop-up user-prompts. You can make your system so secure that you’ll never want to use it again. It’s also easy to dumb down the security so much that you’ll rarely, if ever, see a pop up — and in the process, render the firewall ineffective. The trick is to offer solid protection with minimal user interruptions. OA 2.1 is the only firewall software I’ve tested that delivers a near-perfect balance.

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What to Do About Vista Service Pack 1

Saturday, March 22nd, 2008

Vista SP1 has been running on a couple of my test machines for the past month and a half or so. I’ve encountered nothing remarkable in that time, other than some initial driver configuration issues. I wrote about my initial experiences last month.

Now that Vista SP1 is on its way to you, and some people may have been offered it via Windows Update, here are my recommendations:

1. You don’t need this thing right away. If you’ve kept up with Vista security patches, then you’re fine. There’s no need to rush into it.

2. On the other hand, the biggest pain you’re likely to encounter with SP1 is driver issues during or after installation. The driver problem is so acute, though, that Microsoft has taken the unusual step of preventing machines whose hardware profiles include components for which Vista SP1 doesn’t have an adequate driver from offering SP1 via Windows Update or via Automatic Updates. For more detail on this, and a specific example of the kind of driver problem you might encounter, check this Preston Gralla blog entry: My Nightmare Trying to Upgrade to Vista SP1.

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Online Armor 2.1.0.85 Released

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

Online Armor 2.1.0.85 was quietly released on the Tall Emu website earlier today. The company posted information about the software firewall’s new features on its forums. I’ve tested several betas of this release, but many of the what’s-new items are server-dependent, and so I’m just exploring those nuances right now.

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New Versions of Comodo and Online Armor

Sunday, February 10th, 2008

The Scot’s Newsletter Software-Firewall Comparo (you know, the series-review that just won’t die) continues to evolve. That’s largely because the makers of Comodo Firewall and Online Armor — the two products under consideration — are actively updating their products. If these guys would just slow down a bit, I could make a final judgment. But that’s one of the reasons these are the two best products in the race, neither company is resting on its laurels.

I recently security tested Comodo 3.0.15.277 (“Advanced Install”) and a late beta of a new version of Online Armor that I believe will arrive shortly. Both products came through with flying colors — passing every test I threw at them. So I can confirm that newer versions of both products continue to test as well as the somewhat older versions tested by Matousec.com.

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Comodo’s CEO Attacks Scot’s Newsletter Product Decision

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008

Comodo’s president and CEO, Melih Abdulhayoglu, used his forum today as a podium to blast this Scot’s Newsletter Jan. 20th blog post. In that post, I notified readers here of my decision to stop considering one of the two modes that his company’s software firewall product, Comodo 3, offers during installation.

In the Jan. 20th post, I explained that because Comodo 3’s “Basic Firewall” installation option does not offer full-fledged leak protection, and because my first impressions of Basic Firewall’s user-interface were favorable, I needed to make a statement to my readers that:

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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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