Microsoft has just released the Escrow build of Windows Vista / Windows Server 2008 to beta testers. For those who are not familiar with Microsoft’s beta cycle, an escrow build is a build in which Microsoft stops the development cycle. Beta testers are asked to focus primarily on confirming that reported bugs have been fixed. Assuming that no major issues are discovered, we can expect the first release candidate sometime around mid February according to Tech ARP (http://www.techarp.com/showarticle.aspx?artno=604&pgno=0) with the RTM version following sometime during the second quarter of 2009.
Microsoft has included over 600 individual fixes in the service pack, and is also introducing a number of new features. Some of the new features include:
· Windows Search 4.0
· The Bluetooth 2.1 Feature Pack
· Native support for Blue-Ray recording
· Windows Connect Now (a new feature designed to simplify the process of connecting to Wi-Fi networks)
· UTC support for the exFAT file system
· Support for VIA Technologies 64-bit CPUs
· Better Wi-Fi performance after Windows has been resumed from sleep mode
Microsoft has just released the first release candidate of Internet Explorer 8. Although I haven’t had a chance to download it yet, I just received an E-Mail message from someone at Microsoft who says that there have been some changes since the previous beta. Some of these changes include:
Click Jacking Protection
A New feature called In Private, which helps to prevent sensitive data from being cached locally
Performance improvements, which allow the browser or additional browser tabs to be opened more quickly
Minor “improvements” to the user interface.
I will post more details in a day or two once I have had a chance to download the release candidate.
When you open the Beta version of Internet Explorer 8 that comes bundled with Windows 7 for the first time, there is a pop-up that asks you if you want to enable suggested sites. The text on the popup explains that suggested sites allows Internet Explorer to recommend other sites that you might enjoy, based on your browsing history.
When I first saw this text, I had a bad feeling about the feature. My mind instantly flashed to some adware that I have seen that serves up targeted ads based on your browsing history. I could just imagine doing my online banking and then getting a popup recommending fifteen other banking Web sites that I “might enjoy”.
Thankfully, the feature doesn’t work like that (at least not from what I have seen). IE places a Suggested Sites link on the toolbar. When you visit a Web site and you want to see more sites like it, you can click the link, and a search engine populates the dialog box with similar sites. I personally can’t picture myself using this feature, but at least it isn’t as obnoxious as I thought that it was going to be. I think that the feature may even prove to be helpful for some less experienced users, although I have to wonder how long it will be before the results that are displayed are driven by marketing dollars.
In today’s blog post, I want to write about a really simple setting that saves me a lot of frustration. Although I have a desktop system on my desk, I tend to use a laptop pretty often too. The problem with it is that with where the laptop has to sit, it blocks my view of my wife sitting at her desk across the room. Every time she says something to me, I have to close the laptop lid so that I can see her. If you have ever run Vista on a laptop, then you know that closing the lid causes the laptop to power down. This is really annoying since I only needed to close the lid for a second.
Fortunately, there is a really easy fix to this problem Simply open the Control Panel and click on the Mobile PC link, followed by the Power Options link. If you look in the left column of the following screen, there is a setting labeled Choose What Closing the Lid Does. Now, just set the When I close the Lid option to Do Nothing, and click the Save Changes button.
I have been spending a lot of time lately playing with the latest Windows 7 beta. One of the new features that appears in this beta is something called location awareness. Location awareness is one of those features that were supposed to have been in Windows Vista, but didn’t make it. The basic idea is that the operating system can be aware of your current location via a GPS sensor.
Right now there aren’t many practical uses for this technology. Microsoft MapPoint offers something similar today. It is designed to plot your current position on a map based on either coordinate from a GPS receiver, or based on certain wireless Internet services. Keep in mind though, that this is only a single application. The Windows 7 location awareness feature is going to exist at the operating system level. Microsoft has already made an API available to developers that will allow them to include location information in their applications.
One of the things that struck me as interesting about location awareness is that it is not completely GPS-based. In fact, the location awareness feature is open-ended, and can accept input from a variety of different sensor types. One of the examples that Microsoft uses on their website is that users will be able to use the location awareness feature in conjunction with an ambient light sensor. This will allow Windows to adjust the brightness and contrast of a laptop screen automatically based on the current lighting conditions. I think it will be really interesting to see how this feature plays out over the long-term.
Although I have had a copy of the Windows 7 beta for quite some time now, the system requirements seemed to have fallen through the cracks somehow, I was told simply that if a machine could run Windows Vista, it could run Windows 7 too.
At the time, I just went out and bought a machine that I could use for the sole purpose of tinkering with Windows 7. As luck would have it though, I ended up needing another computer for one of the labs in a book that I am writing. I ended up having to blow Windows 7 off of the computer and load Windows Vista.
When Microsoft released the public beta of Windows 7, they actually posted the system requirements. The minimum posted requirements are:
- Processor: 1 GHz 32-bit or 64-bit processor
- Memory: 1 GB of system memory
- Hard drive: 16 GB of available disk space
- Video card: Support for DirectX 9 graphics with 128MB memory (in order to enable Aero theme)
- Drive: DVD-R/W drive
- Internet connection (to download the Beta and get updates)
Since I now knew the stated minimums, I decided to install Virtual PC 2007 onto the machine that I had intended to use for Windows 7 and install Windows 7 in a virtual environment. I am happy to say that it works fine. There are a couple of things to keep in mind though.
First, even if you are running a 64-bit host operating system and a 64-bit copy of Virtual PC, you can only install the 32-bit version of Windows 7, because Virtual PC does not allow 64-bit guest operating systems.
Second, even though 1 GB of RAM is the stated minimum, I had to allocate 2 GB to Windows 7 before it would perform adequately.
Third, The virtual machine additions make a huge difference in the virtual machine’s performance, so make sure that you install them.
When Microsoft created Vista, one of the new features that they introduced was the Windows Experience Index. The basic idea was that the index was an easy way of benchmarking your system’s performance. Microsoft had hoped to entice software vendors to use experience index levels instead of minimum system requirements, but it never really happened.
Even though the experience index is seldom used in the real world, I like to check the experience index on my machines before and after an upgrade, just to get an idea of the effect that the upgrade had on the machine without having to spend a lot of time using the Performance Monitor.
The machine that I use to write my articles on is starting to get a bit dated, so I decided to do a memory upgrade on it. Prior to the upgrade, the machine had 2 GB of RAM, and the experience index rated memory operations per second at 5.0. I upgraded the machine to 4 GB of RAM, and recalculated the Experience Index. I had expected the experience index to rise, because I had doubled the amount of memory in the machine, but it actually decreased. The Memory operations per second rating dropped to 4.8.
I haven’t had the time to perform detailed analysis, but I suspect that the reason for the decrease is that the original performance index was taken when the machine was brand new. Since that time I have installed a lot of software, and some of that software is probably resident in memory, and slowing the machine down a bit.
As a freelance technical writer, one of the most frustrating things for me is to have access to information that I can’t write about. The Windows 7 beta is a classic example of this. I have had a copy of the Windows 7 beta for quite some time now, but haven’t been able to write about it because of my non disclosure agreement with Microsoft.
At the Consumer Electronics Show this week, Steve Ballmer announced that the Windows 7 beta would become publicly available today. As much as I would love to give you a link to it, I haven’t even been able to get onto Microsoft’s site today. I have been trying all morning, and keep getting a “Service Unavailable” message. I take this to mean that there are a lot of people downloading WIndows 7 at the moment. Even though I can’t give you an exact link, you should be able to find the beta at www.microsoft.com/windows
Next week I will start writing about some of the new Windows 7 features that I haven’t been able to write about until now.
For a while, there was a rumor going around that Windows 7 was going to be the first version of Windows that was only released in a 64-bit version. According to all of my sources though, Microsoft will also offer a 32-bit version of their new operating system. The question is why?
I don’t have any direct information from Microsoft regarding why they have decided to create a 32-bit version of Windows 7, but I think that the answer is easy enough to figure out by looking at the current state of Windows Vista.
Over the holiday season, retailers were flooding everyone’s mailboxes with sale ads. While glancing through some of the ads from electronics stores, I noticed that almost every consumer grade computer being sold today comes with a 64-bit version of Windows Vista. In a way, this adds to the mystery, because 64-bit operating systems are clearly replacing 32-bit operating systems.
At the same time though, I have been thinking about replacing the computer that I am writing this blog post on. My initial thought was to install a 64-bit version of Vista on the replacement machine, but there is one thing holding me back; application compatibility. I have two mission critical applications that will only run on a 32-bit operating system.
I tend to think that Microsoft’s decision to produce a 32-bit version of Windows 7 was probably a marketing decision. Application compatibility is the one issue that has plagued Vista from day one. Microsoft is trying hard to convince its customers that if an application runs on Vista, that they will not have any trouble with it in Windows 7. Well, I’ve got two applications that run just fine in a 32-bit Windows Vista environment, but I’d bet you a wooden nickel that they won’t run in a 64-bit Windows 7 environment (at least not without some tweaking). Therefore, the only way that Microsoft can possibly live up to their marketing hype is to go ahead and offer both versions.
If you have read my last few blog posts, then you know that I was on vacation for most of December. I spent most of that time on a cruise ship. If you have ever been on any of the longer cruises then you know that you tend to spend a lot of time at sea while traveling from one port to another.
Typically, I try not to even think about work when I am on vacation (I almost never bring my laptop with me). Even so, those sea days can get to be a little bit boring after a while, so I did bring along a bunch of books and magazines that I had been meaning to read, but had never gotten the chance.
While a lot of what I read was just the same old, same old, I stumbled onto a story in the July 2008 issue of TechNet Magazine that I just had to share with you (July 2008? I told you I was behind).
You have probably heard of Microsoft Bob, the ill fated product that has become the butt of many jokes among Microsofties. If you aren’t familiar with Microsoft Bob, and you want to see just how bad it really was, there are some great videos on YouTube. One in particular is at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZegWedG-jk4
So what does all of this have to do with Windows? Well, according to the article, the Windows XP installation CD’s copy protection feature is based on Microsoft Bob of all things. When Windows XP was completed, there were about 30 MB of space left on the installation CD. Somebody in Redmond decided to fill that space with random data, and then have the installer check to make sure that the data can be verified.
The data wasn’t actually random though. Instead, someone at Microsoft dug out the installation floppies for Microsoft Bob, and combined the contents into one large file. They encrypted the file, and placed it on the Windows XP installation CD to act as copy protection data.
Of course this raises the question of why nobody ever seems to encounter this copy protection today. Well, the file is still there. At the time that Windows XP was produced, broadband Internet access wasn’t widely available. Microsoft’s thinking was that if they could completely fill up the CD and make that data required by the installation process, then it would help to act as a deterrent to people downloading CD images. After all, downloading an extra 30 MB of data over a dial up connection would take a while.
Happy New Year everyone! I wih everyone a happy and prosperous new year.