Tag Archives: Windows

Vista…WTF?!

I’ve kind of come around on Vista.  Although it was SO VERY painful to set up and get everything installed, that was long ago, most programs are now compatible, and I’ve come to appreciate some of the subtleties of the OS.  While there are some pieces that are just the pinnacle of stupidity (like the file open dialog), most pieces just make XP look so aged and cartoony in comparison.  As a result, I’m on Vista at work until I have 7 in hand.  But this week, I received an error that just makes me laugh.  What’s worse is that this problem can found all over Google, lots of people get it, and no one has a definitive fix.  I rarely use this meme, but this is an OS #FAIL.


Vista-Service-Pack

click the picture for a larger version

Why Windows 7 Won’t Turn Microsoft Around

Roughly Drafted has an incredible article about why Windows 7 won’t turn Microsoft around. It’s totally accurate: Microsoft is missing the boat over and over and over again.  If I were in charge of Microsoft, here’s what I’d do:

  1. I’d immediately begin a very public plan to phase out Trident and replace it with Webkit over the next two versions of IE.  I’d blog about it endlessly so everyone knows that while Trident will exist (with extended CSS and HTML 5 support, natch) in IE9, it will be a new, fully Webkit based browser by version 10.
  2. Developers, developers, developers? Start bundling Python and Ruby with Windows to encourage cross platform development.
  3. At the same time, it’s time to release a statement granting the freedom for developers to implement .NET on other platforms.  Fighting Mono in any sense just means more people won’t ever want to touch your tainted tech.
  4. On that note, I’d start looking at free.  It’s time to start giving away Visual Studio.
  5. I’d stop the artificial versioning.  Microsoft actively cripples their products.  They handicap their server OS to not recognize RAM until you shell out cash for a more expensive version.  Look at Citrix, who accomplishes this without the same aftertaste: XenServer is free, no limits.  But certain non-essential features are part of an enterprise package.
  6. The cost of software is destined to approach free.  Office software is too expensive, and it’s why people are seriously looking at Google Apps and other office suites.  We’re all beginning to realize we don’t really need Excel, Outlook, and Word as much as we thought.  Once we can convert our PST files, the rest is just getting used to an alternative.

We’re witnessing the collapse of a major entity, I think, and it may take decades, but you can see the cracks now.  Zune doesn’t make money.  X-Box doesn’t make money.  Bing is never going to take any significant traffic from Google.  Windows isn’t generating the revenue it used to.  IE is less important than ever.  Office is finding its way onto fewer and fewer computers.  Linux is coming into its own.  Netbooks will almost certainly, in time, be owned by Chrome or something like it.  Windows Mobile is stale and unpopular on phones today with no suggestion that it will ever be able to compete with iPhone OS, Android, WebOS, or Blackberry OS.

Windows 7 is shaping up nicely; my department at work is enjoying our testing and can’t wait to deploy it.  But that doesn’t mean we’ll make a push to deploy it, we’ll just let it leak in.  And so will many others, most likely.

If you look around carefully, you’ll see the tectonic plates of technology shifting, as slowly as they always have, but as surely as they’ve ever been . Don’t miss it: what will one day be an exciting history is unfolding before us.

Vista: A Year Later

I’ve been running Windows Vista at work for about a year now.  I’ve blogged about Windows Vista before, and I’ve been mostly let down by it.   But I’m here to confess today that Vista has overtaken XP for me.  Yep, it’s true.  I kinda dig Vista.  

If you perouse the internet, you’ll see – pretty much everywhere – that Vista sucks. You’ll also see a super harsh, super successful Mac compaign aimied squarely at the PC and Vista, and you’ll see Microsoft abandoning the name “Vista” in their marketing initiatives in favor of their new “Windows, not Walls” slogan.  Lastly, you’ll see Steve Ballmer telling you that waiting for Windows 7 is okay by him.  So Vista, by pretty much all accounts, is a flop.

When I first began using Vista in February of this year, it was killing me.  Application after application wouldn’t install.  UAC prompts were bombarding me faster than I could “ok” them.  The system couldn’t copy across the network faster than I could retype my documents (it seemed, at least).   It was absolutely unusable.  

Almost a year later, I have to say, I’m really at home in Vista.  I’ve only ever seen 1 blue screen event, and, ironically, it was due to Apple’s iTunes 8 Vista USb driver fiasco.  Service Pack 1 fixed the network copying issues, pretty much every app has goten situated so that it works in Vista, the icon previews are nice, and there are only a few remaining annoyances; but XP has plenty of those too.  

I’m a Mac guy at heart, but truthfully, Vista is the prettiest Microsoft OS ever to come out of Redmond.  Whereas with XP I had to disable Luna just to not want to poke my eyes out, Aero is smooth and comforting.  The ribbon has grown on me, and the system doesn’t gradually become slower and slower, at least as fast as a naked XP box will.  

So there ya go – Vista is a decent product, albeit, after 2 years in the market.  I’d still recommend people wait for Windows 7 – no point in training users and getting them comfortable if Windows 7 will be a fraction of what the E7Blog is suggesting.  But the Vista/Windows 2008 combo is a good one.  I’m not suggesting it beats Leopard, but it’s certainly better than XP/2003.

Release Tuesday

This week has already seen a slew of releases: first came an updated Airport Express (I want one). Then today, Apple unleased Safari 3.1, which vastly extends support for bleeding edge web standards like CSS3, HTML5, and expands support of ECMAscript.

Finally, not to have all headlines stolen this St. Patrick’s Day, Microsoft loosed Vista SP1 to Windows Update.

I have installed Safari 3.1/Win and this evening I will upgrade at home on the Mac. I am currently downloading Vista SP1 for my work PC. Reviews to follow, for certain.

The Pain of Vista

Yesterday, I began building my new work laptop. It’s a Dell XPS M1530, a nice 15″ widescreen screamer with a dual core Centrino, 2GB RAM, a 256MB video card, embedded Bluetooth, 802.11n, and, for the first time in my company, Windows Vista.

It’s typical for me to buy/install new software for testing on my own machine. I can generally test most software and evaluate it pretty tough, so it seemed with the XP consumer drop-dead date fast approaching, I ought to have better than cursory familiarity with Vista. It’s also a good time to ensure that all of our critical tools run on what will, unfortunately, likely be a platform our IT guys run shortly. So I embarked on the Vista adventure.

The verdict? Well, let’s start at the beginning? You know how every review of Vista… like ever… has complained about UAC? Well, imagine that level of annoying times 10 and you can begin to understand UAC. The most pointless utility ever not only bugs you for virtually everything – including deleting shortcuts from the desktop – but also moves all over the screen so it’s impossible to predict where it will show up next. Also, sometimes it sits in the taskbar, perplexingly pausing application installs until you notice the subtle orange blinking and “activate” it. Also, UAC doesn’t require a password or anything, just a click. And best of all, it’s stupid. If I delete something that requires admin access, and then repeat the action, it sometimes asks for the permission twice in 10 seconds. UAC is the worst thought out decision a team that brilliant has ever produced, and it took me about 5 hours of use to de-activate it entirely.

Most applications, surprisingly, installed just fine. Even older tools I prefer – some from 2004 – work without any problem. However, many recent tools, mostly those from Microsoft itself, don’t. You cannot install the Windows 2000/2003 admin pack – essential tools for Windows network admins – onto Vista without a stream of commands not publically advertised by Microsoft. I built myself a big batch file to run it, and I will share that file on this site later. Eventually, I did get it to run. Turns out that it’s a “security risk” because it involves certain DLLs running at elevated privileges… or something. I don’t know. But it should be embarrassing for Microsoft that Windows Vista users can’t administer Windows networks. Embarrassing… or pathetic.

Every single window in Vista fades in and out. It’s a neat effect to be certain, but it’s overused. Sometimes dizzying.

You can’t use Windows Update anymore – you have to use a app built into the control panel.

The Start Menu is a disaster. Drilling into subfolders takes a good 2-3 seconds. And they are impossible to view as a whole. While it’s pretty, it makes me long for XP’s Luna Start Menu, which is odd, since I found that to be such an abomination that I always de-activated it immediately. It’s a nightmare.

The Control Panel is much more logically organized, except I used to know where everything was, and now I have no clue where to find it without scanning the whole damned thing.

Same goes for many folder options, locations on the hard drive (it’s now C:\Users, and profiles are in C:\Users\%username%\AppData), and some other configurations, which have mysteriously moved.

I changed the path of C:\Users\%username%\Documents to re-map to my H: drive on the network – as it’s ALWAYS been – and the .NET framework wouldn’t install. I had to un-map the drives to get it to work.

But the cherry on top – by far – was my adventure to get the Citrix admin tools installed. I kept getting an IMMEDIATE error on launch; I tried many versions of Citrix, same error every time. Eventually, I traced it back to the Windows Installer service, which wouldn’t run. At all – it wouldn’t start. I kept getting the same error: Windows installer service cant start Error 193:0xc1. I googled it and looked at all the results – Google it yourself. Here, I’ll even give you the link: “Windows installer service error 193:0xc1″. You’ll notice a lot of feedback, but lots of unanswered questions. I dug and dug and eventually started poking into the DCOM service, thinking this was the problem, since the Installer service depends on DCOM. But DCOM ran just fine. So I dug further. I tried everything I could: I rebooted, I tried everything as the local administrator, I removed all of my temp files, I unregistered some files. Eventually, I found an article on Microsoft’s K-Base that discussed some problems, but you’ll notice it only covers the ancient “Windows Installer Service 1.0, 1.1, and 2.0.” XP runs version 3, Vista runs version 4. Could these be relevant?

When I got to the registry search, the key it mentioned wasn’t there, but having been through the registry several times today, I decided to do a search for “msiserver” – which is the Microsoft Installer Service. I found the new key, and one of the sub-keys is called “ImagePath.” This key is present in almost all services and gives the location of the files it launches. In the case, the file was “C:\Windows\system32\msiexec /I /v” (those switches might be wrong). So, on a whim, I wondered if many the permissions on that file were wrong. I poked into the system32 directory and found msiexec, but it was a 0 KB file. Blank. Weird, huh? Then I realized that there was ALSO a “msiexec.exe” file. In short, the path was referring to the exe without an extension, and somehow, there was a blank file without an extension by the same name! Wha??

Simply renaming msiexec to msiexec.old and trying to restart the service did it. So that’s one possible fix for Error 193 – make sure the ImagePath references the proper path.

Anyway, re-building and migrating a laptop ought to take about 3-5 hours, depending on the volume of data to transfer, and setting up Vista took me the better part of 2 days. Will I recommend it for other users in our company? No way. Will I recommend it to other IT professionals? No way. Will I recommend it to anyone at all? Sorry, Microsoft, but no way. Vista is everything you’ve read. Pretty, but dumb.

I have high hopes for Service Pack 1, but I should think it’s fair to say “too little too late.” Vista is a disaster, even moreso when compared to Leopard, whose bugs are much less serious, many of which really merely annoyances (such as stacks and menu bar complaints). But Vista is the real deal: a sympton of a company too big to make sane choices. I will definitely be posting a SP1 follow-up, to be sure. Here’s hoping for a retraction.

Windows Registry Adventure

“Don’t screw around with the Windows registry.”

That’s something I’ve told both users, helpdesk techs, and even IT managers for nearly a decade. “If you change something in the registry you don’t understand, you can render your system unbootable.” And yet, over the last 10 years, I’ve had my fingers pretty deep in the registry several times – especially with my high capacity terminal servers. But it wasn’t until this week that I really had my first stumble, and it was quite an adventure.

Read on for the exciting adventure in gory detail.

<!–more–>It all started with an attractive promise made by the folks at <a href=”http://www.kaxaml.com/”>Kaxaml, a lightweight XAML-optimized text editor</a>.  It seemed like a cool app, and I like to dip my toes into new types of programming from time to time to see if anything sticks.  After all, mere exposure to a myriad of new technologies puts you at the head of the pack in the IT world.  Honestly, most people don’t even know what <a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xaml”>XAML</a> is. 

So I downloaded the MSI for Kaxaml, which requires the .NET framework version 3.0 or greater.  WinFX, or .NET 3.0, is relatively new, and for most people, there’s little need to run this right now, so naturally, my work laptop, which has steadily chugged along on XP SP2 for several years, didn’t have it installed.  So I downloaded the .NET 3.0 setup files from Microsoft.  Halfway through the installation, I got an error message saying that the .NET framework could not be installed because I had the “beta 2″ version of “Windows Presentation Foundation.”  Fair enough. 

But the problem is, you can’t uninstall WPF beta 2, at least not directly.  You need a special uninstaller, downloadable from Microsoft, once you’ve validated yourself with your Passport, natch.  

So I downloaded the WPF beta 2 uninstaller.  And after it ran for a bit, it shared a tidbit with me about being unable to access a particular registry key HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT .xaml or somesuch (It did provide me the entire reg path).  So, feeling brave and confident, I called the ‘ol Start > Run > Regedit and drilled down to the key in question.  

Wouldn’t you know it, I didn’t have rights to the little bastard.  How can that be? I’m an admin, I certainly installed this myself, I’m using the Microsoft uninstaller.  So, I tried to grant myself rights, but alas… no go. 

So, my next step, being tempted by Kaxaml to see what it was all about, was the navigate to the HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT element and grant myself inheritable rights to the entire hive.  After all, I’m an admin, so what harm could this do? 

A lot, it turns out.  See, after that happened, I started having some troubles with Windows, like immediately! First, I noticed that right clicking files only gave me a few options: cut, copy, paste… that’s about all.  I borked my shell.  

So, I rebooted.  Whoops! That’s a problem, because when I log in, I see nothing. Nada, zero, zilch, squadoosh, a big ‘ol goose egg.  So, I issue Ctrl+Alt+Del to bring up the task manager, which runs, but when I select a new task and type any command, I get an error about being unable to find any program to open this application.  Doesn’t open Explorer, doesn’t open regedit, doesn’t open “cmd.” Huh?

So, I reboot into safe mode to get to the registry again, but guess what – no shell.  I’m f’ed.  My staff tells me to hit up the recovery console, but I’m scared because I have A LOT of data on this machine, and the recovery console has a long and sordid history of screwing up user accounts, so I opt to hammer away a little longer.  

Then, via <a href=”http://google.com”>Google</a>: A new trick! Holding down the shift key can produce a terminal window.  And guess what – EXE files launch! Weird, right?  

So I can get into the registry and I can get into several other apps now, such as a brower, but not Explorer.  Okay, we’re one step of the way there.  I get into the registry and attempt to give myself access to the HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT hive again, but guess what – now I have no permission to the ENTIRE HIVE.  The entire thing is blanked out.  Google is not much help.  

Eventually, I reboot an login as the local administrator, only to find the same problems, but this time, in the registrym with enough fooling around, eventually, I get the shell to run again, huzzah! But alas, no icons, just blank gray default icons where everything should be.  Not a single one shows, not a single one works.  In fact, even the Quick Launch toolbar is icon-less.  Still useless, but progress, nonetheless.

At this point, I’m getting tired of this nonsense, certainly feeling as though Kaxaml is not worth it, and upset I fooled with the registry to begin with.  My otherwise happy machine is truly useless.  Then, finally, after a million or so Google results, way too many cached pages, and lots of technet articles that didn’t help one iota, I find something.  I get back into the registry via the crazy Task Manager > Command Line > regedit trick from before, and give it a shot.  The recommendation is to grant “Everyone” full control to the entire CLASSES_ROOT hive.  At this point, why not? So I do, and like magic, all of my icons light up in full color! Shazam! 

..But it’s short lived, because nothing works.  None of my EXE files launch, they still give me an association error.  Turns out this is a common problem (although one I’ve never encountered with with NT since version 4: I’ve lost my associations for EXE files.  Actually, I had suspected this before, except the only way to change it is via Explorer, and I couldn’t get any explorer windows to open before, neither via the GUI or the terminal.  So now, with a still hobbling machine, I double click “My Computer” and get a window – thankfully.  I then drill into Tools > Folder options and associate “EXE” with “Application.”  And like magic,  it works.  The machine is restored in  full working order, full color, full function.  Ha ha, recovery console be damned.  

Except one thing: I still have WPF beta 2.  And guess what? I’m fine with that.  Sorry, Kaxaml, maybe on my next laptop?

I realize that the entirety of this adventure was based on me screwing around with my own registry against the suggestion of Microsoft, but it ought to remind everyone that even a seasoned technician can still make a mistake, and the registry is not a toy.  

So I remind you all, gently, “Don’t screw around with the Windows registry.”

The Flop That is Windows Vista

Thom posted an article on OSNews.com yesterday called Vista’s Mythical Cut Features. It got me thinking; I left a few comments on the article that really hit the heart of the matter, but Thom’s responses, and those of others, questioned whether or not the things I mentioned were cut features or not.

Longhorn, years ago, was presented as delivering on three pillars. The pillars were: WinFS, a metadata based, database-like file system; Avalon, a new .NET graphical subsystem; and Indigo, a new communications framework. WinFS is in beta now, but delivers in a far different way than originally posed. Avalon, renamed Windows Presentation Foundation or WPF was delivered with Windows Vista and is available on XP. Indigo, retitled Windows Communication Foundation, is available in Vista as well. Initially, this lends some credence to the editorial, which suggests that it’s virtually impossible to name individual “missing features” from Vista.

But upon further thought, it goes further than “which feature is missing?” Because there are loads of things that are “missing” in the sense that they ought to be included. Ultimately, where Vista fails on a large scale is delivering on the promise it made. Microsoft, not only via promo videos, but also via their insiders like Scoble, Mary Jo Foley, and Paul Thurott, started to lay the groundwork via conversations and ideas that promised a next generation operating system. A new OS, built almost entirely from scratch, almost entirely in managed code.

But they blew it. Big time.

In fact, they were so incapable of delivering that they infamously scrapped their work and rolled back to Windows 2003 SP1 in what would eventually be called the “Longhorn reset.”

Vista is an incremental change at best. This should come as little surprise, as Vista is pretty much, as described, XP enhanced twice over. Many of the changes that made it to the final version serve little purpose. The Aero interface is clunkier and less attractive than Apple’s. The Flip3D tool is cool, but ultimately, a toy. UAC is a disaster. WinFS isn’t there. Windows Mail received love under the hood, but is still second rate. The over-branding of every app and the un-customizable, dumbed-down UI is hatable. Pretty much everything about Vista is less appetizing than Windows XP, which is maturing really nicely.

Longhorn, on the other hand, was an idea. It was going to show us something new and exciting. It was going to be the best that incredibly talented engineers could come up with when they had unlimited budget, an amazing array of programmers, marketers, user interface experts, and powerful partners. But Microsoft collapsed under its own weight. They couldn’t commit to advancing things and making them work. Who could forget the Windows shudown crapfest article? This is likely a microcosm of the entire development of this OS: the lowest common denominator, the least offensive, the least problem causing thing won. And more often than not, it sucked.

This isn’t to say Redmond doesn’t count amongst its ranks, some of the best and brightest. It’s just that when you become that large, it’s hard to be nimble and stay on course. Microsoft’s newest utter failure is their foray into search — Microsoft has already lost search. I wonder if they will apply the same “we can do anything” attitude there.

The interesting thing is that Microsoft has pretty much admitted Windows Vista is a flop by feeding the press details about “Windows 7.” The very fact that they have already dumped Vista to focus on the next shining star is pretty telling.

Combine all of this with the dizzying number of “versions” of Vista, designed, as best as I can tell, to slowly extort money from you. There is no magic included with each version, you don’t get an extra disc, or more applications. You don’t get more at all, in fact, what you get is something simply less crippled. Microsoft intentionally sells versions of its own OS with features removed unless you pay more. This is the business behind the OS, and it is part and parcel of the problem – there is no respect for the client, either as a consumer or as a user. In short, they don’t deliver the best product they can, they deliver part of the product, and for more dollars, you can use some of what was there anyway. Since none of the version provide explicitly what I would want, I would need to buy the “ultimate” edition, which currently runs $329. That’s $200 more than Mac OS X Leopard.

So maybe I can’t name siginificant individual things left out of Vista besides WinFS. And perhaps the disappointment is not that the features are left out, but rather, that developers haven’t really leveraged them for fear that a Vista-only program is doomed before the first header file is included. But one thing is certain: Vista didn’t deliver on what most people expected, which was a new experience, a new OS, a new paradigm, a new adventure. Instead, they got a stinker that requires top-notch specs to perform half as well as XP. Microsoft may yet impress us with Windows 7. Perhaps their days ruling the roost of OSes have begun their long and painful wane. But one thing will remain forever clear when discussing Vista: what they “left out” was innovation and inspiration. And what we got is a flop.

Two Incredible Videos

First, the most incredible winter driving video I’ve ever seen. If you’ve ever driven in ice, you know that sometimes, when the road is just wrong, you are literally helpless to do much more than brace yourself for a semi-controlled spin. This road must’ve been completely iced over. Whatever this case, you will probably cringe like I did just watching one person after another get into this mess.

Secondly, a promo for Windows 386. The first 7 minutes are completely boring, but skip to about 7:10 in and the chaos begins. You will never believe that someone actually thought this would sell Windows. The only thing is does is convince me that promo directors in the mid-80′s must’ve done A LOT of cocaine.

Did I Call This or What??

You might suggest that I was writing about something that isn’t a very far fetched suggestion, but I think I was writing about something I had not seen suggested elsewhere ever when I said that Apple should release Safari for Windows. And then today, Mary Jo Foley, former Microsoft Watch columnist, suggests that the Mozilla Foundation seems to believe that Safari for Windows is coming.

If Apple ports Cocoa to Windows (like they obviously have done with at least a subset of Carbon in order to run Quicktime and iTunes), they can introduce all sorts of Mac software for Windows which could very keenly familiarize Windows users with the Mac experience to help lure potential switchers, people who might be close to considering a new computer and having to face a learning curve with Vista anyway.

In other words, this is great news. I’m firmly on Opera right now, but if Safari for Windows came out, you never know…