Sandro Villinger and I have crossed paths many times in the past few years, originally thanks to writing for the same website: Tom’s Hardware (originally a German-based PC enthusiast site, now a flagship for French-owned global media company BestofMedia.com). Sandro has a unique facility to lift the covers on Windows to expose all kinds of important and interesting stuff, yet present it in a friendly and approachable way. He’s done it again with a recent article for the HP-sponsored InputCreatesOutput site entitled “How to Fix Slow USB Connections and Devices.”
In that story he plows through common causes for perceived slow USB connection ranging from believing the hype (just because USB 3.0 has a theoretical maximum throughput of 5 Gbps doesn’t mean you’ll ever see anything close to that kind of throughput on a real, live USB 3.0 link, no matter how fast the devices on either end of the connection might be), to recognizing and fixing cable problems, to benchmarking connections, Windows write-caching, impact of power management regimes, and more. It’s a a fascinating read not only because it brings a bunch of useful topics and tips together under a single umbrella, but also because it presents the necessary information simply and directly enough that most of us will be able to put his suggestions to work.
It’s enough to make me wish that Sandro’s books on Windows XP and Vista had been translated into English from their original German. It also makes me regret dropping out of a Windows 8 book project earlier this year, because I’d lined Sandro up as a co-author for that project. All I can hope is that he gets the chance to reach an English-speaking audience with his impressive yet accessible trove of Windows skills and knowledge, whether or not I get to come along for that ride!
Keeping up with new drivers is always tricky. In general Lenovo does a great job of making drivers available to its customers, but it’s not always easy to tell exactly what’s new (take for example, the Lenovo Windows 8 Beta Drivers page, where you can see no driver dates until you dive down into any of the device/software categories on that page) or to get notifications as and when new drivers of interest appear. At least, that’s what I thought until I stumbled upon Lenovo Support’s RSS Feed this weekend.
Of course, not all feed items apply to all Lenovo makes and models. But it’s great to be able to subscribe to the feed, then jump quickly online to potential items of interest to see if they apply to one’s particular machines as need or interest might dictate. Shoot, I’ve already used this feed to find and install drivers for non-Lenovo machines (including my Windows 8 desktop) with great success as well. I wish more vendors would adopt this kind of proactive information sharing approach, as it makes keeping up with new stuff ever so much easier and better consolidated. In particular, it’s already been helpful to alert me to new Intel driver releases that are otherwise tricky to learn about or find through the Intel website itself. Other folks who, like me, are especially interested in drivers and system tweaking and tuning should find this RSS feed informative too, even if they don’t own a single Lenovo computer.
In the past couple of weeks, I’ve noticed an increasing number of signs that Windows 8 really is gearing up for full-scale commercial launch. For one thing, last week Lenovo posted a Windows 8 version of its System Update Facility, which has now been happily downloading updates to my X220 Tablet ever since. So far, Lenovo has pushed new drivers for the X220 Tablet’s Ricoh Media Card Reader and a new Audio driver its way. I’ve also noticed the frequency of new beta drivers for Lenovo stuff is slowing down, as more final stuff starts getting into regular update channels. It truly is starting to look as if Windows 8 stuff will be going into normal update and delivery status in time for next week’s GA.
The same thing is true for my desktop Windows 8 system, too. Just yesterday, Windows Update pushed the latest nVidia driver onto that machine (GeForce R304 Driver, version 306.97, release date 10/10/2012). Ditto for an update to the IntelliType software for that machine’s Comfort Curve 2000 keyboard from Microsoft. Because driver compatibility with Windows 7 has been very good, there may be a few more items that show up via update for Windows 8 machines, but my gut feel is we’re not going to experience a huge upheaval once the GA date comes and goes.
That’s not to say that things are completely easy-breezy just yet. Many of the Lenovo ThinkVantage elements aren’t yet “officially available” for Windows 8, including the “home base” element — namely, the Lenovo ThinkVantage Toolbox — along with ThinkVantage Rescue and Recovery (backup and repair utilities), Drive Space Manager, the Lenovo Hardware Scanner, and so forth. In fact, the Lenovo Support pages are running impossibly slowly as I write this blog, which leads me to wonder if they’re not madly posting Windows 8 related updates right now… I’m seeing strange URLs there that include strings like “LegacyDocID=MIGR-61431” which make me wonder if they’re not perhaps in the process of updating their entire document management system, and migrating from an old platform to a new one. Stands to reason that they would do this before Windows 8 goes GA, and a whole new world of support opportunities opens up before them! That might also explain why I can’t seem to get the new Windows 8 Active Protection System element to download to my tablet PC, either.
On October 9, Microsoft pushed an update to Windows Flash for Windows 8, but Secunia PSI still reports that 11.x versions of Flash Player (both 32- and 64-bit now, in fact) still need updating:
Curious as to why this might be, I right-clicked an entry to get at more details, then selected “Show details” to see a list of installed versions. Much to my surprise, I’ve uncovered at least part of the problem. As with other Windows-pushed updates, the relevant code lives inside the …\Windows\WinSxS folder, where each flash version gets its own folder to live in. Again in keeping with MS update methods new versions are added but old ones never get deleted (you need a “force delete” tool such as Empty Loop’s Unlocker 1.9.1, because Windows itself allows only the Trusted Installer to add or remove entries in this folder).
So even though a new version of Flash is indeed present on my machine — see the entry dated 10/9/2012 in the following graphic — PSI is reacting to the ongoing presence of older versions in the WinSxS directory to flag the presence of an older version as a potential security problem. I’m not convinced this is a valid detection, and suspect that Secunia will have to change how PSI detects and reports on elements in the WinSxS repository for Windows 8. It should be interesting to see what steps the company takes to update its software when the GA date arrives, and it begins to formally offer support for this new operating system.
It’s interesting to discover that sometimes more than one organization has to change its tools and methods to accommodate new software — in this case, the Windows 8 operating system.
In the past several months, Microsoft has introduced special Windows-8 oriented peripherals including a variety of “touch mice” and keyboards designed to help conventional PC users maximize their Windows 8 experience. Last week, Logitech followed suit with a collection of Windows 8 touch devices (and some keyboards) as well.
These devices are designed to support use of gestures on their surfaces (and to control cursor movement) to help users take advantage of Windows 8’s touch-oriented user interface without necessarily acquiring a touchscreen. I see this approach — which Microsoft also supports with its various touch mice — as a more affordable way to upgrade existing systems to Windows 8 without having to replace conventional monitors with touchscreen counterparts. Besides for regular systems (and most business applications) there’s simply no reason to use touch all that much, expect for UI navigation anyway. This approach makes a nice and affordable compromise available to users or organizations that may not even want to pony up for touchscreens anyway. Here’s a little more information on the three devices depicted above (all three work with the Logitech unifying receiver, with no word about Bluetooth versions available as yet):
- Zone Touch Mouse T400: (MSRP: $50) includes conventional mouse buttons at the top front of the mouse body’s surface, but also incorporates a glass-covered touch zone for horizontal scrolling. It provides shortcuts to access the Win8 Start screen (press the front of the touch zone) and Win8’s list of open apps (press back of the touch zone, just below the buttons). The maker claims this mouse will run for up to 18 months on a pair of AA batteries.
- Rechargeable Touchpad T560: (MSRP: $80) looks to be about 4×4″ in size, and includes a built-in rechargeable USB battery that the company suggests will last for up to one month before a plug-in becomes necessary (via USB to the host PC). It supports its own library of Win8 gestures (videos of all gestures in use are available online). This device appears designed to provide the most natural Windows 8 touch experience to users, but is also the highest-priced of these three offerings, too.
- Touch Mouse T620: (MSRP: $60) features a smooth glass surface all over, and its own sets of Win8 and Win7 gestures. It also uses two AA batteries for power, which Logitech claims will last up to 6 months in this device. Aside from the tap-based gestures it supports, the entire top surface of this mouse also acts like a touchpad and supports a variety of gestures for shortcuts and navigation.
Look for these devices to hit stores on October 25, when Windows 8 GA ships.
As of today — Friday, October 12, 2012 — the Windows 8 General Availability (GA) date is two weeks away. On Thursday, Oct 25, or Friday, Oct 26 (there are conflicting reports) Windows 8 will be unleashed upon the world, and all of the Windows OEMs can finally start selling hardware with the new OS pre-installed. With that date in mind, I’ve read oodles of announcements from vendors including Lenovo, HP, Dell, Acer, Asus, Sony, Toshiba, Samsung, and so forth about a slew of new desktops, laptops, and tablets that will attempt to make the most of Windows 8’s new capabilities, especially touch, in a wide range of sizes, weights, and form factors.
Yesterday, I came across a discussion on ZDNet by Sean Portnoy entitled “Kupa UltraNote Windows 8 tablet offers modular design for maximum customization,” where the device in question is shown in a semi-exploded view in the preceding graphic. It’s the first Windows 8 tablet I’ve seen so far that really gets me excited about the potential for new and powerful systems that take strong advantage of the new OS. Of course, the pricing information isn’t yet available, and I have to believe we’re looking at a box that will cost no less than $1,000 in its most minimal configuration, with prices over $1,500 easily conceivable. But perhaps that kind of pelf is worth expending when you get something really powerful and usable in return, as legions of high-end MacBook owners will be only too happy to tell you.
The Kupa UltraNote has two really interesting features that I believe give it a powerful leg up over most of its competition. First, it uses two detachable rails on the left and right hand edges of the tablets’ surface to provide access to a compact and removable battery on the left, and to provide access to two USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI port, and a SIM card on the right hand edge. Second, while the company promises 7 hour life from the battery, a quick swap to a backup unit doubles that time to a very nice 14 hours. To my way of thinking, this makes the UltraNote eminently suitable for day-long use, even on some pretty long days. A docking unit will increase battery life to 12 hours (there’s a second battery in this portable base), and also includes an attached keyboard, more USB ports, GbE and addtional video ports, and an SD card reader.
The tablet will support Ivy Bridge mobile ULV processors in the i3, i5, and i7 families, and includes a 10.1″ 1920×1200 IPS monitor with 10-point MultiTouch support (more than enough to achieve Windows 8 Touch logo certification). A digitizer pen is also included, and the touch sensor supports a staggering 10 bits of pressure sensitivity (1,024 levels). Built-in RAM starts at 4GB, and may be expanded to 8 GB (it’s DDR3, but no info is yet available on its speed, though the form factor is sure to be SO-DIMM; from what I see on the Ivy Bridge ULV specs it can’t be over 1,600 MHz and the graphics come from an Intel HD 4000 GPU). By itself, the tablet weighs 1.67 lbs (760 grams) — only 15 grams more than my iPad 2 with the magnetic cover attached. Connectivity options include 802.11 a/b/g/n and even 802.11 ac, with add-ins for 3G/4G LTE, Bluetooth 3.0/4.0, RFID, and even NFC. There are two built-in cameras: a 2.0 megapixel unit on the front, and a 5.0 mexapixel unit on the back.
Here’s a side-on profile view of the Kupa UltraNote, that shows the Windows 8 logo at bottom center, just above the docking connector, with air vents off to the right.
Though the proof won’t be possible until I can hold the unit in my hand, and use it for a while, this is the first Windows 8 tablet I’ve seen that makes me think: “Hey, this unit can hold its own against the iPad!” Let’s hope I’m right. And if I am, I’m going to buy one.
Yeah, sure, yesterday was the second Tuesday of the month. As expected, MS dropped a sizable load of updates for currently supported Windows versions (14-18 for my various 32- and 64-bit Windows 7 machines, and 8 for my sole remaining Windows XP VM; I’ll check on Vista later when I take my HP Dragon home from my son’s school for updates and maintenance next weekend). What I didn’t expect but received with great delight was a package of updates for Windows 8. According to Steven Sinofsky’s blog on the subject (Updating Windows 8 for General Availability), Win8 is not just on the Patch Tuesday schedule going forward. In addition, this first batch of updates for Win8 is tantamount to an initial service pack, not just as a patch/bug-fix maneuver but also as a reflection on input and requests from OEMs in response to their preparing their desktop, notebook, and tablet offerings for sale on or after the GA date of October 25, 2012).
Here’s a screen cap of the update history for my Windows 8 desktop showing 4 updates applied yesterday:
In his Building Windows 8 blog, Sinofsky makes special mention of the update related to KB2756872 which is called “Windows 8 Client and Windows Server 2012 General Availability Cumulative Update.” There’s also a Flash update as well, but alas, Secunia still doesn’t see Flash as patched because Adobe has come out with another, newer patch for pre-Win8 versions in the meantime (sigh!).
This is pretty cool because it means that what MS has done before in its SP1 release (often as long as 6 months to a year after GA) it has done for Windows 8 before GA actually happens. Should be interesting to poke around on my systems to see if I can notice any perceptible improvements to security, reliability or responsiveness — but so far, all I notice is that my drivers (except for the Camera codec) haven’t required any post patch updates just yet. We’ll see!
Over on her ZDnet blog, Mary Jo Foley reports this morning that an MS VP (Keith Lorizio, US Sales and Marketing, Microsoft) has claimed that MS will have over 100K apps in the Windows 8 App Store within three months (90 days) of the GA date on October 25, 2012. Because there are only 3,600 or so apps currently available, that would require an additional 96,400 items to appear to make such a claim good. I agree with Ms. Foley’s assessment that this strains credulity, and applaud the graphs and charts she provides in her blog post to support her contentions.
Today’s App Store offers less than 4,000 items, so there’s a long way to go to get to 100k!
I expect we’ll see perhaps a few hundred more apps before the 10/25 GA date hits, so I can take the total count up to 4,000 by that time without being overly generous. That means we’d need to see an average of 32,000 apps per month for November, December, and January for Mr. Lorizo’s claim to prove correct. Something tells me the actual count will probably fall short of that final number. I’d love to be wrong, and for him to be right, but there’s not only some work involved in writing the apps, they must also go through a submissions, vetting, and listing process to show up in the App Store as well. If only because of the time involved in moving items through that pipeline, it seems highly unlikely to me that so many items could successfully make that transit in such a relatively short period of time.
Until the end of January, 2013, anybody who owns a valid license to Windows XP, Vista, or 7 can pay $40 for a download upgrade to Windows 8, or $70 for an upgrade package with DVD. That certainly removes most financial barriers to jumping into the Windows 8 soup. And at least for Windows 7 users, the near-identicality of drivers for the two “numbered Windows OSes” (7 and 8, that is) make driver issues something less of a concern than it was for those who faced the transition from XP to Vista, when Microsoft revamped its device driver model thoroughly (and catastrophically for its sales results). I’ve installed and upgraded systems from XP, Vista, and Windows 7 to Windows 8 now for customer preview, release preview, and RTM versions and have encountered only half-a-dozen driver issues or so, most related to printers and scanners, and one mysterious USB device that has yet to give up its secrets.
Having been down this road quite a few times in the last year myself, I had to chuckle this morning when reading well-known curmudgeon John Dvorak’s latest piece for PC Magazine entitled “The Great Upgrade Upheaval.” His observation that upgrade involves finding files and serial numbers for software installed long, long ago, then using that information to reinstall strikes a pretty humorous chord with me. My solution has been to enshrine legacy stuff like that in a virtual machine, then run the VM when I need to use the old stuff I couldn’t install on a new OS, not because of compatibility issues, but because I couldn’t find the necessary information to obtain the original media and a license key to make things work! I’m not sure Dvorak is right to blame Microsoft for this, but it’s certainly a problem all of us can relate to.
As for Dvorak’s whining and moaning about data, preferences, and settings that Windows strews willy-nilly all around the system drive, I agree this creates complexity that has to be addressed. That’s why I’ve learned to appreciate tools like the Microsoft User State Migration tool, or the Windows Easy Transfer tool, both of which automate all the little files, settings, preferences, favorites, and so forth that gradually turn into any user’s customized and comfortable desktop environment.
For example, I just transferred my wife’s working environment from an older mini-ITX system to a new Dell notebook and everything moved over for her just fine, thanks to Windows Easy Transfer. But what queered her move in this case was the Dell’s behavior with the external monitor with the notebook lid open or closed: open, it restricted screen resolutions to settings related to the laptop’s own built-in display; closed, it allowed the external monitor’s native resolution and settings to decide what things looked like. Because it’s difficult to tell if the lid is closed all the way, the behavior of the system just seemed too capricious, arbitrary, and unpredictable for her to enjoy making a go of things using the Dell box. It’s too bad because its speedy SSD, Sandy Bridge processor, and Intel HD 3000 graphics ran rings around the MSI G945 industrial mini-ITX mobo on her old and trusted mini-desktop setup. But because she couldn’t easily make things look the way she wanted them to on the Dell, she’s now reverted happily back to her old machine.
The same sort of inertia seems to be afflicting Mr. Dvorak. Though I do understand it completely, he would do well to remember that there’s more than one way to skin the upgrade cat. Buy a new Win 8 machine with enough RAM for multiple VMs, and he can take all of his legacy runtime environments with him to Windows 8 in VM form, and use them when and as he sees fit. Shoot! He could even just use Win8 as a hypervisor environment, and live entirely in his legacy VMs if that’s what he prefers.
Despite MS having promised to provide an update for the insecure version of Adobe Flash integrated into IE 10 in Windows 8 “soon” (see my 9/12/2012 blog post on this subject) I hadn’t seen the update come across the transom yet, and wondered what the story was. A little online research turned up this IEBlog post entitled “IE 9.0.10 Available via Windows Update,” which explains that Security Update MS12-063 (“Cumulative Security Update for Internet Explorer (2744942)”) released on 9/21/2012 addresses the flash issue among other reported problems with IE versions from 7 through 10. Sure enough, I checked my Update History in Windows 8, and here’s the relevant line that shows up therein:
Nevertheless, when I run Secunia PSI on my Windows 8 machine, it still claims that Adobe Flash player still needs updating on that system for the 64-bit version, as shown in this screen snippet
After some further digging around, I found a passel of downloads in the cited KB2755399 article that included a Microsoft Installer executable for x64-based systems, which I proceeded to download and install. After restarting my Windows 8 test machine as per the installer’s request, Secunia still reports that Adobe Flash player is out of date! This creates something of a Catch-22 until Windows 8 GA on October 25, because Secunia’s official policy is that it doesn’t support beta OSes, even though their software (mostly) runs fine with Windows 8.
My gut feel is that the issue should be resolved with the application of Windows Update item KB2755399, but we can’t get official confirmation from Secunia until Windows 8 goes into official public release later this month. Stay tuned!