Archive for the ‘Networking’ Category

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?

Never Say Never: More on FiOS TV and Internet

Saturday, September 29th, 2007

Those of you who’ve been reading me for a while know that I love my FiOS broadband connection, but I’ve had no end of trouble with my Verizon FiOS Internet account. Over the past few months I’ve written several items about my flirtation with Verizon’s FiOS TV (conventional and digital HDTV television programming — like the cable or dish companies — via fiber optic). I backed out of the idea on installation day when I discovered I needed to opt for a new router, which would be assigning IP addresses to Verizon’s set-top TV boxes along with the other 20-plus computers on my network.

There followed some several items on these pages about another concern I had with FiOS TV, the fact that video-on-demand movies and shows use the same bandwidth pool in the FiOS architecture as the Internet access. I became concerned that concurrent video-on-demand programming and heavy Internet usage might result in slower performance. Verizon has been peeling back the onion and explaining this to me. There’s a little additional detail later on in this post.

But first let me deliver some good news. The account problems I’ve had with FiOS — which have amounted to Verizon’s records showing me as having standard DSL instead of FiOS — have been fully rectified. Frank Boersma, director, set-top box and in-home network engineering at Verizon, whom I quoted in this recent post, was able to set in motion a resolution process. The problem dates back to my original FiOS Internet installation date, early in January of 2006.


Last Word on FiOS TV

Monday, September 10th, 2007

Over the past few issues of the newsletter, I’ve discussed the pluses and minuses of Verizon’s FiOS TV service. I’ve had Verizon’s FiOS Internet service since January of 2006, but I recently decided to skip Verizon’s FiOS TV digital entertainment package. I decided to upgrade my existing Comcast digital cable TV service to support my flat-panel HDTV. To get caught up, check these articles:

Last time, I offered something of an apology for my earlier surmise that there might be some impingement of broadband Internet throughput because Verizon also uses that pipe to send video-on-demand programming, such as movies and shows. In my household, I have five televisions and set-top boxes connecting them to digital programming. My kids are addicted to on-demand children’s programming, and my oldest loves to order free on-demand movies. Personally, I’m more into Netflix. But there’s a lot of on-demand programming going on in the Finnie household. So I got to thinking: Would multiple on-demand TV programming coming down the pipe diminish the bandwidth available to my Internet connection?

It turns out that my concern actually does have some merit, although only in the worst-case scenarios.


Good News About FiOS TV

Tuesday, July 10th, 2007

I’ve already made my decision. For now, I’m sticking with Comcast for HDTV and cable. But I’m willing to admit that, very likely, some of my concerns about the potential to impinge on FiOS Internet bandwidth may have been unfounded.

Martin Heller, a past colleague of mine who reads the newsletter, wrote me to tell me that he tested FiOS TV related to my concern about erosion of broadband Internet performance while data-intensive, on-demand programming was being downloaded and played, and the results are very encouraging. Martin wrote:

“I did a controlled FiOS speed test using the speed test, with and without an on-demand movie playing. Internet bandwidth was not affected by the TV in my tests: I measured 20Mbps down and 4Mbps up whether or not on-demand programming was playing.

“I did notice some latency that seemed to correlate with the TV activity. Without any TV activity, the speed test dial jumped immediately to 10+, moving up more gradually from there. With the on-demand movie going, it took a second for the speed reading to go up, but by the end of the test it was at essentially the same value as the tests run without TV activity.”

Thank you, Martin, for performing this test.


FiOS TV Has Drawbacks

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007

I signed up to have Verizon install FiOS TV in my home on May 29th. Newer SFNL subscribers may not realize that I’m lucky enough to have 15Mbps FiOS FTTP (fiber optic to the premises) broadband at my home.

I adore my FiOS broadband service, and so it was a natural extension to consider expanding it to FiOS TV (digital and HD) cable-TV-like service when it became available in my hometown.

But when the FiOS tech arrived to install it, I learned two things that the salesperson neglected to tell me:

1. Verizon uses your broadband access for on-demand TV, downloading the channel guide, and other data transfers specific to you or your town. Verizon says that they have a way to increase the bandwidth for these downloads so that it doesn’t take away from your Internet service, but I’m not buying that. I’m willing to listen to them explain this, but so far, no one I’ve talked to at Verizon can offer one. (In fact, in my latest conversation on the subject, a Verizon Encore customer rep supervisor got angry with me saying that I didn’t need to know how it worked, it just did. In my experience when the customer service people get defensive about a technical question, there’s a problem.)