Windows 7 (Part 1)

One question: is it the bees knees??? Yes it is.

At this point every other review is going wax philosophic about how great Windows 7 is, how its what Vista was supposed to be. And then go on to debate whether it should be a Service Pack instead.

I’m going to try avoid all those issues. But I will say this. Microsoft think that it should stand alone as it own OS, and that’s how I’m going to review it.

Its running on a Dell Inspiron 6400, 1.72Ghz dual Core with 1gb RAM.

First off. the problems I’ve had with it have been few and far between.

Now, every time a close the lid and then re-open it, the screen refuses to display the screen again. Its really annoying and requires a restart. The fix is simple – change the power options to do nothing when I close the lid. And it works like a charm now.

Second, IE8 RC wont install here. Don’t ask. But and earlier version of IE8 is installed. No solution as far as I know and I use Firefox anyway.

Third, iTunes runs quite well. Its faster. but not much else. however, it hangs on exit when its saving the iTunes library. And there’s not much choice here but to kill it with task manager.

You can get around this problem, perversely, by running iTunes as an Administrator. I suspect that the UAC tweaks are  the culprit here.

Fourth, every now and again 7 will hang at the shutdown screen (when it says “Shutting down”). This is annoying because you’re not quite sure what’s going on.

Finally, and i don’t know why this happens, the Adobe Bridge Photo Downloader no longer has the “Convert to DNG” option.


Before everyone leaves comment, I have installed all the updates delivered to me. And Adobe Bridge tells me its version Since I convert everything to DNG on import, this is really a disaster.

Most programs, actually run in Windows 7 quite well. I did have a problem with Windows Live and Visual Studio 2008 SP1 but hey, all installed eventually.

The Taskbar

7 is done right in a number of ways. The taskbar is particularly important as its the primary focus of any interaction with the OS.

On first use, telling the difference between pinned and active icons can be difficult. Its a very subtle UI cue there.



The Icons and notifications are better and never become too cluttered. Handling overflow is done particularly well.

At the bottom right of the taskbar, a little area sits on its own, separated from the rest of the taskbar. Clicking on this shows the desktop. However its not immediately obvious what this is for.

The taskbar itself stays transparent even when viewing a maximised window. I’m not sure about this. There is an argument to keeping the Vista behaviour of a solid taskbar when working with a maximised window.

The Start Menu

The Start Menu isn’t visually different from Vista’s. There are subtle UI cues however, that give away further functionality.

Programs that have been used have arrows next to them. Clicking on this arrow give the documents recently used by this program. the time saving nature of this cannot be over stated.


The search box now says “Search programs and files” instead of start search. Its more obvious about the function of the search box, and encourages users to use it more. This is one of my favourite features of the Vista-esque UI ( i.e since Vista)

Taskbar search

The Shutdown button is quite blunt as to what it does, differing from Vista’s Off icon. It is possible to change the functionality of these buttons in the power settings and this always confused me. text makes it so much easier to distinguish  what’s going on.

Paint and Wordpad

Both Paint and Wordpad have the new Ribbon toolbar. this makes them much better as applications.


I tend to use paint quite a lot for situations when its not worth firing up Photoshop or Illustrator. Even in the few times I’ve used it, the Ribbon toolbar makes it so much better to use. and its not crappy old paint anymore either.

A few nice additions include the ability to Zoom right out ( right click to zoom out). This jumped out at me as being new.

Edit: Jordan Hofker pointed out on Freindfeed that its Wordpad not note pad. Many Thanks.


The changing backgrounds have been around for ages in third party programs or as part of the Power Toys stuff. however this time its baked right into the OS.

The themes feature is very powerful. Of course I can still remember how Microsoft offered Plus for windows 95. I was too much of a cheapskate to get it, but the idea of a theme has been around for a while.

This marks the first time (that i can remember, anyway) that themes are actually files you can share rather than an amorphous collection of settings.

Whereas before (pre-vista, anyway) settings and dialogs had to be navigated with a map ( literally), important dialogs such as for the mouse pointers, screen resolutions, screen saver and sounds are literally a click away. This will encourage people to get more out of their computers (even the not so computer literate ones).

More later this week as i continue exploring Windows 7.

Windows 7

Yep. I’m writing this from my Windows 7 VM (on Virtual PC 2007 SP2).

Performance wise, The setup inside of the Vm is making it sluggish. But of the gig of RAM its got, its only using 32%. Which is notable. Vista beta 2, on the other hand) on the same machine in a dual boot configuration used up 80% (of one gig of RAM) standing still.

Talking of performance, I’ve backed the VM up to Windows Home Server. It took all of 20 minutes. Which frankly surprised me. given the fact that this was a new OS running under a VM.

So I’m inclined to wonder exactly how similar to Vista is 7, file wise? Since WHS only copies to the server files which it does not have a copy of (or a version of). Or, it could be that 7 is optimised for WHS to backup (Which makes sense on a number of levels, but not to the European Union).

The other thing i notice is the new taskbar. I’ve grown used to the Vista taskbar for some reason or other, but this is a pleasant change. The fact that the  task bar items can be configured to show application names or not, is really neat.

They do, however get confused with the buttons in the Quick Launch bar quite easily.

The UAC logo has changed colour, to yellow and blue, in keeping with the OS colour scheme. The UAC prompts themselves are worded differently.

The absence of a sidebar is nice. And I hope that the performance hit that running Sidebar produced is gone too. Gadgets are still there, just in the background and way less conspicuous.

Its quite a please feel to the whole OS. Does it feel like Vista?? A little. Its familiar territory. But In truth, I’ve yet to explorer the OS thoroughly. So that answer will have to wait.

One thing that is defiantly different is that Google Chrome 1.0 looks different.its a dark Blue instead of alight blue.

Talking of web browsers, i decided to install IE8. Which didn’t install. It didn’t recognize the OS for some strange reason. Must try again cause I hear that a few people have managed to do it.

I must say that I’m impressed enough to be considering upgrading one of my Vista machines to Windows 7.

This Beta 1 makes me look to Beta 2 and Release with a lot of hope that Microsoft have learned their lesson of the Vista Release debacle.

The one thing that no ones said anything much about is the WinFS file system that Vista was supposed to ship.

With Sun’s ZFS redundant file system, Microsoft are lagging behind. Even OSX has ZFS built in ( it has to be enabled with some obscure command line tricks, but its there).

Even if Microsoft released a separate beta version with WinFS, I’d be happy. 

NTFS is old. Time to innovate it.

Hard Drive Troubles


This picture was taken using WinDirStat to image the drive. Great utility, by the way. Its part of my Software Keychain now.

See that yellow area over there? Its 3.5Gbs of space that are used, but not accessible via Exploder and thus the Windows API.

Before you ask, I already tried RootkitRevealer from SysInternals, but it doesn’t work on Vista.

It was 63Gbs yesterday. Here’s what I did:

Then I decided that if I restore from a Windows Home Server backup, the unknown space shouldn’t be there as its effectively invisible to the Backup service at the time of making a backup.

Which I did. After booting up, it didn’t work.

However, this morning chkdsk started as part of the boot sequence, no idea why. And the hole in my hard drive is gone  reduced.

Whew. I was contemplating a complete rebuild of my laptop.

Out of curiosity I ran WinDirStat on my Desktop.

Here’s what I got:


Again, there’s a 30Gb hole in the hard drive.

I ran chkdsk.exe and got a slightly tidier picture, but with the 30Gb hole still there.

Looks like I’m going to have to restore it from WHS as well.

Visual Studio Install Error 1935 (HRESULT: 0×80070BC9) Fix

As  I wrote here last week, getting Visual Studio 2008 installed was a bit of a problem for me on my main Desktop PC.

And I couldn’t find a fix anywhere. So since the installation was successful on my laptop ( they are both nearly identical systems) I set about trying to find some difference between them.

I came up with the fact that I’d had Visual Studio 2008 Visual Web Designer Express installed and had uninstalled it before my Visual Studio 2008 Pro install.

So in the finest tradition of Voodoo Troubleshooting I did the following:

  1. Mounted  the Visual Studio Express Editions DVD image available from Microsoft here
  2. Installed Visual C# Express ( it looks as if any edition will do)
  3. Restarted
  4. Uninstalled only Visual Studio C# Express (the runtime prerequisites will also uninstall)
  5. Restarted
  6. Installed Visual Studio 2008 Professional

I’m not quite sure why this works. I put forward the idea that it fixes the registry or the .Net Install ( see my earlier post for details).

Happy Coding 🙂 !

Installing Visual Studio 2008

UPDATE: I found a fix. See here.

Right. Let get this straight. I’m running Vista Business with Visual Studio 2005 Standard installed (and All the extras – SQL Server etc).

The short version is that Visual Studio 2008  Professional refuses  to install itself. It installed .Net 3.5, Document Explorer 2008 and the Web Authoring Component and then quit at some point while installing Visual Studio itself.

Heres the error log:

Microsoft Visual Studio 2008 Professional Edition – ENU: [2] ERROR:Error 1935.An error occurred during the installation of assembly ‘Microsoft.VC90.DebugCRT,version=”9.0.21022.8″,publicKeyToken= “1fc8b3b9a1e18e3b”,processorArchitecture=”x86″,type=”win32″‘. Please refer to Help and Support for more information. HRESULT: 0x80070BC9.

I’ve no idea what is going on. If you Google search  the Error Code you get this error for VS2005 (or SP1), .Net 2 or SQL Server.  Searching by HRESULT points to this MSDN Forum where the discussion is about a VS2008 Compile problem.

Now here’s the thing. It installs perfectly on my laptop (also running Vista Business with Visual Studio 2005 installed with all the bells and whistles). So the download ( and no, its a perfectly legal copy) is definitely not corrupted.


Hardware Upgrades- Vista and WHS

I just upgraded my main PC from XP to Vista  Business. And stuck a new graphics card in.

Before we discuss the Windows Experience Index, the only down side of the upgrade is that there are no Vista drivers for the front ports ( USB, SD, etc)  or the built in sound card from Compaq. None. Their driver downloads page for the model ( SR1629 UK) essentially says “best of luck” for those upgrading to Vista.

In fact, I suspect that the model number of my PC is different to that on the page as the picture does not show the front card reader and the drivers don’t show up for it. Any Suggestions???

This is extremely inconvenient, as you might imagine.I’ve lost 3 USB ports and  a 9-in one card reader. The sound issue was fixed by buying a cheap SoundBlaster Creative card.

I bought a  Radeon HD 3650 PCI- Express card.  512MB of GDDR3 RAM (that has a 1.73GHZ clock). A 790Mhz engine clock. Crossfire X support as well as full HD. The graphics that come out of this thing are amazing.

I bought it mainly to play Flight Simulator X on it and it rocks ( though I’m still adjusting the settings to get the best combination of  graphics and speed/playability).

Here’s the System information page with the Windows Experience Index:


And here’s the breakdown:


I must say I was expecting a dramatic improvement, but not by THAT much. Can’t remember what the original score was before I put the card in, but it was pretty dramatic.

There is a pretty in-depth discussion of the Index on the Vista Team blog here.

Moving on.

My Windows Home Server has been screaming for the last week that the USB drive had failed ( its connected and turned on and has been tried on multiple USB ports on multiple PCs). I’m not sure precisely what happened but I’m a hard drive short and have 200Gbs of space left.


So I’ve ordered two Samsung SpinPoint F1 750GB SATA-II drives. One to replace the failed USB hard drive and the other to replace the aging 80Gb IDE drive. Since there is the hard drive replication feature, I’ve gone down the path of more drives rather than higher drive capacity.  This should take my total drive capacity to about 2 TB, which is plenty. I go through hard drive space rather fast, mainly cause I use SageTv to record Tv and virtual server to run the occasional VM ( I have a 44 GB VM, to give you an idea of size).

I got all this great hardware from a UK company called Overclockers UK. Great customer service. They have no problem dealing with returned items (I had to return a AGP card because my system was PCI-E). They are quite reasonably priced and have some really amazing specials quite often.

My hard drives were shipped 40 minutes after my confirmation arrived in my inbox. And that really is amazing service. If i need hard ware, they’re my first port of call. Well done guys!!

Media Centre or not?

The issue of streaming media (TV, Music, Photos) across a network really zeros in on the reason for having a home network.

For those of you who read this blog, you’ll know that I’ve been trying out SageTv for Windows Home Server. And it works great, if you set aside the EPG issues. Recorded TV is of high quality, crisp and clear; and watching from a SageTv Client is only slightly spotty (mainly due to the server being busy and the wireless connection).

My problem is two fold. One WHS is actually a server and is busy all the time and only has a Celeron D.

Two, SageTV shows only play in SageTv itself or in Real Player. Requiring re-encoding to watch via WMP11 or for use in Movie Maker. Which is a pain since a 27 minute show comes out at 650MB at Normal quality and takes about 4 and a half hours for Windows Media Encoder to process.

The EPG issue that I’m encountering means that the Program Guide only has info for about 4 channels out of 24. It is irritating in the extreme since identifying shows requires that you watch them. UK EPG support is quite spotty the forums tell me.

The solution to all of this is, I think, a Media Centre PC. A dedicated hardware device. The whole point of dedicated hardware is to share the load. My broadband connection goes though a router instead of a PC. A GPU handles 3D graphics instead of a normal, general purpose processor. In this case, WHS can stick to the business of serving files and taking backups and let the Media Centre take the load.

I’ve only heard positive reviews for Media Centre Edition (XP) and it seems pretty good. On top of that, Microsoft has a good strategy as far as extenders are concerned such as the Xbox 360 and so on. Also it should slip seamlessly into an all-Microsoft network.

I’d be using WHS for Storage, and WMP11 to watch the content on a PC. It also makes the purchase of a 360 more likely (I’ve been sitting on the fence lately and can’t decide either way).

To actually build the hardware, I’d use the same method that I did for my Windows Home Server. Order the shell (Chassis, power supply, motherboard, processor(s), hard drive) from Dell and then order the rest of the kit from Amazon.

The thing is, how much juice do you need in a Media Centre? SageTV uses about 15% CPU at record time and not much RAM.

Dual Quad Core 2 might be pushing it a little far. A single Core Duo 2 might cut it, but then again, you don’t want “might” to be anywhere near your Media Center. Specially since after-market upgrading can be extremely expensive for hardware like this.

RAM is dependant on whether Vista Media Centre is 64-bit. I’d say that 2 or 4 GB is safe enough.

The next thing is required for this is, well, a network. Streaming media over wireless is Ok if its small enough and you are close enough to the Access Point to get the and excellent signal ( In my house that practically means sitting right next to it). For real media streaming, you need Gigabit Ethernet. More on that to come.

Windows Vista Desktop Screenshots

(this follows on from my posts here and here about the Vista Beta 2 desktop)

Finally got round to posting screen shots of Windows Vista Business (click for high-res):



The desktop comes from the Hamid Darwish collection (for my write up and a view of the whole collection).

You can download  the whole collection as a ZIP file from his site. I’d unzip it directly to C:\Windows\Web\Wallpaper\ so it’ll show up when you personalize your desktop.

Random Thoughts for the Day

I might make this a regular thing.

  • I was at Costa’s this afternoon and a guy walks in with a  brand new iMac. Must have been at least a 20" if not more. never felt so jealous in my life. He must have got it from the Glasgow Apple Store. I’ve been meaning to go past, but haven’t had the time yet
  • My 19" Xerox TFT died today. Its a display model that I got slightly cheaper and have had it for 2 years. Its one of those lookers -black with a glass front so its completely flat. Damned thing. Multi-monitor setup anyone??
  • TCP/IP – spent the weekend doing revision on it. No wonder the Vista networking team re-wrote it.
  • Wouldn’t it be easier to replace RAM if you could plug the old or new RAM into a USB port and use it with ReadyBoost??? I mean, you need every megabyte of RAM you can find these days.
  • I keep thinking that you can do so much with technology around the home (RSS on your TV for example). Its just so difficult. Windows or Linux?? Windows Home Server??? Media Centre Edition??? Mac Mini with Front Row??
  • I’m starting to think that a separate machine running Media Centre Edition would be better than SageTv for Windows Home Server. I’m fighting SageTv tooth and nail to get it working properly ( EPG and all).It should be easier than this. Might get a refund
  • Could we please have a virtualisation hardware solution for small business/ home. It’d be cheaper than buying the MCE Server.
  • How many Vista Sidebar gadgets are actually useful??Google desktop is much, much better at useful gadgets. The mail gadgets for GD actually tells me when any new email arrives ( even if its automatically archived).
  • And could we please get a free sunclock for either sidebar?? You know, the ones that show where its day and where its night on a map of the world.
  • Also, back to sidebars, I’ve noticed that Google desktop loads its widgets off the Internet. You could theoretically see your widgets at any PC with GD installed if you’re logged in. Which is logical for Google in becoming the hub on which our lives revolve. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were building a HealthVault competitor – on the web of course.
  • I’m seriously considering the iPod Touch. DRM or no DRM. iTunes integration or no integration. The Design blows me away everytime. Why did el Jobso have to come up with a design that puts every other portable music player ( and iPod, mind you) to shame?????? And don’t tell me the iPhone is the best iPod to have. I think I’ll put that SageTv refund money to wards it if it comes to that)