Archive for category Windows Vista

RAM Upgrade

I have always used computers with low hardware specification. I recall my first foray into programming generally and there were a host of limitations to overcome with regard to memory (RAM) and of course secondary storage. Those were the days when every computer you came across had floppy disk drive. What is more interesting is that at some point I always find myself out growing the available amount of RAM or hard disk space for that matter.

Usage

Up until last week, I had been using a machine with 1 GB of RAM which was adequate for most normal tasks but does not quite suit my needs. I have a bias towards web applications which means in a typical development scenario, I would have at least a couple of servers running including simple text editors as well as tools like Macromedia Dreamweaver (that is when I am working with PHP). Of course a browser or two (Firefox and IE primarily though increasingly Google Chrome) is usually running. For a PHP development session, there would be MySQL Query Browser which I find rather nice to tweak and test out my queries before I plug them into Macromedia’s wizards or before I put them into my own custom code if the wizards prove to provide too simplistic a solution. It goes without saying that for a Microsoft targeted web development undertaking then a combination of Visual Studio and SQL Server Management Studio would be running in addition to any reference material that may come in handy at the time.

Memory Greedy software

I am sure you have heard by now all the comments you can take about Windows Vista’s downside and I must admit there are some merits to some of those comments. The aforementioned usage scenario happen to be brought to life on a machine running Windows Vista with that 1 GB of RAM. Of course those in the know would promptly point out that 1 GB RAM is not enough but I can’t help but point out the Vista Capable fiasco going on; it is all over the internet and a quick Google search would produce some interesting material and a more entertaining look at the drama that can take place between some of the computer industry heavy weights. Generally, Windows Vista is a solid piece of work, regardless of what anybody would say but at the same time it does suffer from some typical annoyances as should be expected of any piece of software. With 1 GB of RAM, I have had only two occasions of my machine suffering the equivalent of a BSOD (Blue Screen of Death) though getting it to do anything in a hurry is close to expediting the second coming.

Another memory hog is Firefox; that browser just takes up too much memory and leaving it running as I am used to doing for days on end makes matters worst. The good thing is that if it crashes, there is every possibility to restore my opened tabs. Firefox 3.0 seems to handle memory better than FF 2.x but still it would be huge surprise not to find it the top of the list of processes (sorted by memory size) in the task manager.

The aforementioned development platforms of PHP and ASP.NET are generally manageable with the 1 GB RAM though appropriate time has to be allowed for mouse cursor to respond. There are times at which I prefer to code in Java and in my experience with the constraint hardware specs I have been using, it is not possible to code for a whole day using all the nice Java tools without forcefully killing a Java process or two. There was a time I wanted to get some hands on experience with JBoss Seam and the most straight forward way of doing this was to use JBoss Application Server (AS) in conjunction with JBoss Seam. JBoss AS could not start! The interesting bit of it was that I could not reliably run an IDE like Eclipse but Netbeans could be used though not for extended periods of time.

With such memory hungry software running on limited hardware, I would have to admit to the robustness of Windows Vista though of course there are limits to what the OS itself can do as a platform on which other pieces of software run. Hold on before, you start the protest about a good (but truthful remark) about Windows Vista, I am definitely looking forward to some of the short comings of Windows Vista being addressed in the up coming Service Pack 2 as well as Windows 7.

The Upgrade

I decided to upgrade my RAM … I have added 2 GB to the mix which will take the total to 3 GB. I am running on 32 bit processors (dual core) which puts my primary memory limit at 4 GB thus at some point in the future, I may decide to add 1 GB though I doubt that would happen because by that time, it would be prudent to purchase new hardware. So far the performance of the machine has been the most pleasant: there is no longer any noticeable moments to allow for the mouse cursor to react. However, these are just the beginning days as I am sure more demand will be placed on the additional RAM :-).

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Ditched: OS Homogeneity

I have had what could possibly qualify as the worst possible two weeks with regards to computers in the recent past. First of all before I relate the events of the previous week, let me make it clear that I don’t have any major problems with Windows Vista except perhaps some odd UI interaction situations which I am getting used to but would prefer not to deal with them (a dialog box (that requires an OK button to be clicked) pops up to inform me of a successful unplugging of a USB device … this is just stupid). Yeah, I have issues with that particular UI aspect of Vista. My primary computer runs Windows Vista and one day after what was a normal update I couldn’t access any part of Windows Vista that allows me to administer the machine, let alone use it sanely. Here is a run down of the odd problems that I had:

  • Inaccessible Computer (Windows Vista’s “My Computer”); an attempt to start my computer led to Windows Explorer hanging and as it hangs it consumes a sizeable number of processor cycles from the Dual Core process on the machine;
  • Windows Media Player & Windows Internet Explorer: simply put these particular programs never showed up anywhere whenever they were started; Luckily I didn’t have Windows IE as my primary browser so at least I had access to the web. WMP was however out of reach for a couple of days;
  • Control Panel: this would be the first place to reach in order to correct any problems that seemingly show up after an update from Microsoft. There is an option to remove an update from Windows but in my case I couldn’t do that because the Control Panel won’t start – the same problem as with “Computer” shows up and the Windows Explorer process hangs.

Initially, I thought it was a virus so I setout trying to identify it. I downloaded and installed malware detection and removal tools. All of the tools I used did not identify any virus that could possibly disable the aforementioned components. Faced with such circumstance, formatting the hard disk would be the best possible option of returning the machine to its previously usable state. That raised another issue: I needed to back up the important information and files I had on the hard disk.

I have had a clone machine lying around with a minor problem; its hard disk had information but that information had not been accessed for a while which is the same as it not being of that much importance to me at this point. There was of course the worry of getting that information out of the clone machine. The minor problem was faulty RAM chips and I needed to get new RAM chips so that to put the machine into a usable state. To save myself from the logistics of looking for RAM chips, I decided to take the machine to a computer repair shop and have them handle everything for me. I told the guy to format the desktop’s hard disk. When the machine was brought back, it had Windows XP SP2 running on it.

The desktop presented an opportunity for me to have a Linux only machine. I had used Linux in a dual boot configuration on the desktop in question so it was time to get rid of Windows from the hard disk entirely so that I can have an environment that is heterogeneous with regard to the operating systems that are running. A heterogeneous environment has a number of challenges that will expand my practical knowledge in areas such as interoperability between Linux and Windows systems; the Windows part of the setup will include Windows Vista and Windows XP. In addition to this, the Linux box will take file sharing and print services responsibility for the small network.

Ubuntu was the Linux distro I chose to set me towards the path of OS heterogeneity. Ubuntu’s installation process was remarkably straight forward and fast; and it was not just an OS installation – it includes OpenOffice and everything you need to immediately become productive after the OS installation. While the basic setup of Ubuntu is essentially useful, it is not enough for the uses I have in mind for this machine. The following are the additional packages that were installed:

  • MySQL Server – relational RDBMS
  • MySQL Query Browser
  • MySQL Administrator
  • Apache2.2 – web server
  • PHP5 – web development platform/language
  • wxDownload Fast – download manager
  • Azereus – Bittorrent Client
  • Beagle – Desktop Search
  • Sun Java 6 JDK – java development tools
  • Media Codecs – audio and video playback
  • Samba

This is just a preliminary list which will surely expand as time passes. There are a number of additional software that need to be installed. The final objective of this configuration is to ensure that I comfortable switch from my primary computer (which runs Windows Vista) to this machine that is running Ubuntu. However the Ubuntu box will likely take on more responsibilities and will be the focus of further experiments that will center around network design and setup.

After successfully setting up Ubuntu, there was a place to hold some of the important files that I had on my primary machine. The process of moving everything out of Windows Vista took sometime; at this point Vista’s backup and restore tools were not usable as well. I chose to restore Windows Vista to factory settings which took sometime. Looking back, I think it was a mistake to restore Vista to factory settings; it would have been much better to install the OS alone without all the crapware from the manufacturer. I suppose this is something that I will keep in mind the next time I reformat or configure a new machine.

The ideological difference between Windows and Linux shows in the configuration of the operating systems: immediately after the installation of Ubuntu, it was ready for basic office use for things like web surfing, word processing, spreadsheet tasks and other office relate work. On Windows however, you can surf when you are done with the installation and setup but anything beyond using Notepad is not possible until you buy and install Microsoft Office. Of course instead of MS Office you could go with OpenOffice and you are set. However the point here is the trouble you go through in setting up all these software just to get a usable computer: you go through more with Windows and less with Ubuntu.

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Windows Vista vs. Windows XP Usability

If you follow the happenings on the Internet, it has been reported widely that Dell is still giving its customers the option to order their computers with Windows XP installed. At least one of the news articles I read suggested that this was contrary to what Microsoft would want. While there is a lot that can be said in support of an operating system that has been tested with time and has had various bugs and short comings corrected through patches and service packs, Windows Vista remains an unfriendly OS from a usability stand points. There is the ever present UAC which many people have commented about but the manner in which Vista works, relative to Windows XP is a step backwards. While on the subject of UAC, yes I am aware that it can be disabled but I like my system secure and hence I will learn to live with the incessantly annoying UAC.

In Windows XP, unplugging a USB device is user friendly: after successfully unplugging the device, you get a popup from the system tray that informs you that it is safe to remove the device. Otherwise, you get a dialog box which informs you that your attempt to remove the device was not successful. The difference is quite simple: successful removal of the device do not require a mouse click. Windows Vista on the other hand requires a mouse click on both occasions: success or failure. I got tired of clicking on OK during an attempt to unplug three USB devices from a computer.

The other area in which Windows XP wins in the usability department is access to wireless network management related functions. In Windows XP you get to the wireless network right from the system tray; it is even possible to repair a wireless network connection right from the system tray. Windows Vista offer the same conveniences but the wizard that launches after choosing to repair a wireless network connection is just a couple of steps too many. This wizard is just too chatty and complicates what should essentially be a simple process, that takes the minimum number of dialogs possible.

 

Note: Comparison was between Windows Vista Home Premium and Windows XP Professional (SP2)

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Windows Vista Impressions

Windows Vista became available to the general public on 30th of January, 2007. For most people, it is no secret the 5 years between the release of Windows XP and the release of Vista. The development of Vista is a story of epic proportions as the vision for the product changed overtime and at one point development had to start from scratch. While the rest of the world had to endure more than 5 years of Microsoft’s delays around Vista, the story is likely to be significantly different for Microsoft insiders who are closely acquainted with the events surround Vista development.

The Pain of UAC

There has been a lot of complains about Windows Vista, User Account Control (UAC) though the idea and intend behind UAC has been long in coming, it is currently implementation simply sucks (for a luck of a more polite way of putting it). This is version 1.0 at its core; the core functions of the module are working to their specification but the amount of annoyance these core functions, in their current implementation, provide is just way too much of an aggravation to warrant continued usage of UAC. The main problem I have with UAC at the moment is that the OS has no way of giving administrative rights for a period of time which would mean that all events that require administrative rights do not have to pop a dialog box, each and every time. It is actually becoming scary canceling a process that involves quite a number of administrative tasks.

Vista Usability

It is a general agreement that the largest and possibly credible threat to the adoption of Windows Vista is Windows XP (especially with SP2). Besides, the obvious device drivers and hardware compatibility that Windows XP has over Vista, I have come to realize that Windows XP was much more user friendly in comparison to Windows Vista. The aforementioned UAC pain comes to mind when talking about usability in Windows Vista but I think it goes beyond a new approach to security in Windows. For example in Windows XP, unplugging a USB device would pop a message from the system tray when the removal was successfully; the same task in Windows Vista will pop a dialog box that has an OK button to be pressed. In the particular instances of unplugging a USB device, the machine (OS) just needs to notify the user of the successful completion of the task requested and this does not qualify as a need to have the user actively involved in this process communication.

Many people have already dealt with the annoyance that result from the user of UAC. Even non-computer geek notice the annoyance that the UAC so generously hands it users.

Compatibility

This goes without saying that not many software and/or drivers have been ported to Windows and this leaves alone all the other applications in the Windows eco-system which needs to take advantage of the new plumbing that is part of Windows Vista. The graphics on Windows Vista are truly nice and the amount of strain they exert on the computer’s CPU are minimal or at the very least do not interfere with the running and/or execution of other processes.

Most of the software I have installed on Windows Vista so far have been versions that target Windows XP. The heightened security controls in Windows also means that many people will be trapped in this digital nightmare. At the moment, getting the popular Apache HTTP server is quite a feat though that is one that has been successfully completed. The next tricky thing is how to edit and work with files that are stored in the web server’s home directory.

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Vista & anti-piracy: Remove Windows Vista vs Buy

It has been in the news this week that Microsoft, with the upcoming release of Windows Vista (hopefully it will happen as planned), will be getting tougher on the pirates. I have read the news from various news sources and have read a couple of comments on the same and mind you there were loads of comments to go through. The new anti-piracy measures are not necessarily new to Vista only but the real difference is that they are build into the OS and hence will most likely have a much profound effect as time passes.

To state the obvious: Microsoft owns Windows and it is their business model to make money out of it but piracy gets in the way of that objective. This is not to say that I particularly like the way Microsoft does business and indeed the price they charge for Windows.

With Vista, Microsoft will require that OS be activated with a valid key and the anti-piracy technologies will continuously check to ensure that the key is valid. The part which gets me is the restrictions they have put in place if the license key is not valid: they will give a user a grace period of 30 days to get a valid key and then allow them an hour of browsing before shutting down the machine.

So, whose machine is it that the Microsoft is shutting down? I have not tested this new anti-piracy technology but I hope that they have an option for the user to remove Windows Vista from the machine all together. I mean, lets face it whether the copy of Windows is pirated or not, Microsoft does not own the hardware on which the OS runs and hence has no right deciding out right that you will not use that hardware while not providing you with the appropriate option to remove the OS from your hardware.

I am a student and as is the case with many students, I don’t have the money to hand over to Microsoft so that they give me their blessings to use their OS. The money a student can put together can afford him/her a great assembly of hardware and if the seller of the hardware says he can install a copy of Windows without increasing the price, then that what happens. That is the easiest scenario of how a person (a student) gets a pirated copy of Windows. With the new anti-piracy technology in Windows Vista, Microsoft will be demanding money from this struggling student before he can use Windows. It is only fair that Microsoft, while fighting piracy also provides the option to remove a copy of Windows Vista that does not have a valid license key.

There are free, easily accessible OS such as Ubuntu Linux and these can serve as good enough replacements for Windows Vista. At the end of the day, as a desktop OS Ubuntu has come a long way and will continue to improve as time passes. So to all the cash strapped students who can’t and/or won’t get around Microsoft anti-piracy technology, get yourself a copy of Ubuntu Linux and install it on your hardware. And if you are a computer science student, you can donate some of your expertise in developing an application that is missing in Ubuntu to make it better or better yet improve an existing application. You get the benefit of applying the theories you have read in books and heard in lectures.

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