Microsoft’s weekly downloads and updates are typically on the boring, mundane side. This week, however, several downloads peaked my interest:

Windows Search Version 4.0 has been released for XP, Vista, Server 2003, Server 2008, and WHS. This updates the desktop search system and the Microsoft search enabled in Office, Outlook, and OneNote. This updates a bunch of bugs and is faster when compared to the previous search engines. You read more about the updated search from the preview post from March.

Microsoft Pro Photo Tools version 1 has been released. Essentially this is a metadata tool to help in adding positioning information to photos. Integration with Live Earth and support for route files such as KML has been included. XP and Vista versions are available with validation.

IE 8 Beta 1 continues to be available for testing across all windows platforms too.

My father is wanting a new computer, and I am trying to help him decide what he really wants. To refresh your memories, my father is retired and currently is using an XP desktop. I have already discussed laptop versus desktop. Next, we need to decide what OS to use.

Ubuntu is not an option. Even though it is quickly progressing as a mainstream OS, Ubuntu still requires too much tinkering under the hood. It will continue to get more popular, but it is not ready for primetime yet.

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XP seems to be the easy, logical choice. Dad is already comfortable with much of XP’s interface. If he decides to use a laptop, he is going to be learning about networks, trackpads, and a whole bunch of other new stuff related to that. Adding a different operating system on top of it all might be too much. All of his old programs and hardware will still work fine. Plus, he can always decide to upgrade to Vista at a later date.

However, if my father is wanting a new computer, he is probably not really enjoying his current computing experience. He has already asked me about upgrading to Vista when it first came out. He certainly seems to be anxious for a change.

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A switch to Vista would give most of the advantages of XP. (Vista Video Part 1 Here and Part 2 Here) For the most part the interace is very similar. In fact, you can even switch Vista back to an XP look. Most of his current software and hardware is likely to work too. On the down side, Vista only improves the user’s experience on a few fronts. Some of the changes to the user interface are confusing. Vista contains a lot of annoying bugs. Plus, Vista is treated poorly in the community, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Vista fades quickly much like Windows Millennium did.

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Changing to an Apple system with OS X would be a big leap. (OS X Movie Tour here.) OS X is a much better, much easier (but also very different) interface than windows. Most day to day activities are more simple on OS X, but learning a completely new operating system is tough. Spyware, viruses, and bugs are much less of a worry on the Apple system. However, much of his current hardware and sofware are unlikely to work. Many of the day to day activities such as editing and printing pictures would need to be retaught and relearned. Most of the games and software that he uses now, he would have to give up. (Parallels or Boot Camp would be way over his head.) The lack of a nearby Apple store for training keeps things tough. If dad can get over the hump and learn OS X, his overall experience is likely to be better than with a Microsoft system. That hump just seems to be large.

If dad was not already comfortable with an operating system, I would suggest starting with OS X. However, now that he knows XP, should I reinvent the wheel?

Any suggestions?

New HandBrake is Much Faster

February 28th, 2008

I downloaded the new HandBrake for both XP and OS X today. I have been exceptionally impressed. I am currently ripping some of my DVD library on both systems and thought I would give my initial impressions.

This version of handbrake is dramatically faster. I have not seen benchmarks between the two version but the upgrade is not subtle. Within OS X on my MBP I am seeing my fps increase from the mid twenties to the mid thirties using my typical encoding settings. On my underpowered Vista box, I am seeing increases going from the low teens to mid twenties. There is no doubt in my mind that this version of handbrake is much faster.

Installation on OS X was a snap. Drop the app file into the applications folder and allow it to overwrite. HandBrake on the mac will gladly rip many DVDs even with copy protection.

Installation within Vista was a double click away. My first attempt at coding within vista failed however. As usual, running HandBrake in administrative mode fixed that. HandBrake for windows does not rip copy protected media.

The Vista version of the graphical interface still does not have the picture preview function. I find this essential in trying to pick deinterlacing settings for my old home videos and DVDs that are interlaced.

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Besides the normal amount of bug fixing and security patching, Windows service packs often contain new features. For most users Vista SP1 contains one, fat new feature…

Hotpatching–

Hotpatching is the ability to patch actively running software without a reboot. Only Windows components are supported at this time. If it works as billed, this should save users from those repeated annoying reboots after performing a system update. Even more so, it should save Vista network administrators from the seizure-inducing number of reboots required when updating a new installation.

Although hotpatching is the main new feature related to updates, several bug fixes and tweaks have been included in Vista SP1 to improve the updating process. These include improved failure recovery, quicker update query, and more robust uninstallation procedures.

Other New Vista Features–

Most of the other “new features” will only appeal to a narrow audience or are really glorifed bug fixes.

  • exFat is the successor to the infamous FAT32 file system. More and more users are experiencing limitations of FAT32 such as the 4 GB limit on the size of a file. Most power users switched to NTFS long ago; therefore, this is unlikely to help a huge number of people. exFat has smaller footprint so its main use may be limited toward portable devices and storage.
  • Data Execution Prevention is buffer-overflow protection that is built into the OS. The problem is that it breaks a bunch of existing programs. In fact, turning off DEP in XP is one of our most frequented tech-recipes. The new DEP API allows programmers to set how the program interacts with DEP to reduce conflicts. If this opens up a new area for buffer-exploits is unclear.
  • x64′s Kernal Patch Protection feature now has an API as well. Most anti-virus packages place code within the kernel and this new feature to Vista has shut them out. This new API allows for external programs to patch the kernel. Once again it is unknown if this will be a new target for security problems.
  • Certain AMD video cards will be the first to use Direct3D 10.1 support. Currently only MAD’s HD3000 series cards have this ability. It is unclear if programmers will even use the new 10.1 features; therefore, the consequence of this inclusion is minimal.
  • Vista now natively supports the 802.11n Draft 2.0 wireless specifications without additional drivers and applications.
  • UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) is now supported on x64 Vista installs. This means little for existing hardware (except for Apple devices) but will likely open up new boot and configuration options for the future supporting hardware.
  • HD-DVD and Blu-ray drives receive additional support including new icons and labels.
  • The hated vista file copying mechanism has been improved 25% to 50%. It will be enough to see the difference but still not reaching XP speeds.

One last note–

SP1 will temporarily slow down your experience. The optimizing performance aspect of the OS such as caching and prefetching is reset when SP1 is initially installed. Depending on your usage, speed will gradually increase again.

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Let’s get ready to rumble in this upgrade battle. XP to Vista versus Tiger to Leopard.

The weekend that Leopard was released I decided to upgrade both my systems at once. I upgraded my MBP from Tiger to Leopard at the same time that I upgraded my windows desktop from XP to Vista.

Purpose–

My wife wants to upgrade to Leopard. My father wants to upgrade to Vista. The purpose of this experiment was to see if I should recommend these upgrades to my family and the tech-recipes audience.

Background–

In the OS X corner, I have my Apple laptop that is used for most of my day to day work–browsing, photo editing, blogging, programming, and such. It already has Vista installed on it in Parallels. It was running tight without obvious problems prior to the upgrade. In the XP corner, I have my trusty desktop system that is used mainly for audio/video editing, gaming, and Office. It too was running well prior to the upgrade. The XP box did contain an elderly ds2416 audio mixing card that can be flakey. I removed it completely prior to the upgrade because I have not researched drivers for it yet.

Both systems received adequate back-up before the upgrade. Despite my personal preference for wipes and fresh installs, I purposefully decided to do straight upgrades on both systems for this battle.

I enjoy using both windows and OS X systems and frequently write tutorials regarding both. (I got no agenda/prejudice.)

Leopard Install–

I started the installation disk, answered a few questions, and let it fly. Like in Tiger, .Mac is thrown in your face. I did not time the process but it seemed to be about an hour. The system requested an update of the OS over the internet soon after the install completed. The update process took just a few minutes. No error messages or difficulties during the install.

The transparent menu bar, 3-D dock, and the new folder styles are immediately noticeable. However, clicking around yields no real surprises. For the most part, the basic functionality is consistent from Tiger.

Vista Install–

I started the installation disk and was asked to pick the flavor of Vista that I had purchased. I used the traditional x86 version (as everybody probably should be doing.) The deferral of the serial number and activation process was a nice change from XP’s installation. The install process updates itself over the internet prior to the actual act of installation which is really smart. Unfortunately it did not prevent a IRQL_NOT_LESS_OR_EQUAL Stop BSOD error. I tried to do a repair install as suggested by the installation wizard without success. Eventually, google helped me find the issue, and the installation proceeded successfully after I pulled out a couple of sticks of memory to get below the 3 gig limit.

After installation, the new windows eye-candy interface Aero was not enabled for some reason. Aero was manually enabled without difficulty. Trying to go to the control panel caused explorer to die probably from an incompatible .cpl file. I updated Vista through Windows update. The downloading and installing of those updates actually look longer than the entire Leopard install did. Some of the updates did not install correctly. My Microsoft bluetooth mouse and keyboard would not work.

Most programs worked as expected; however, explorer and other windows processes would die unexpectedly. Here is my favorite error message out of several: Microsoft Windows Operating System has stopped working. Nice.

Windows Operating System has stopped working

Many core aspects of navigation within Vista has changed from XP. Aero is certainly a beautiful and striking change from XP. The Start Menu changes are powerful but will be confusing to the average upgrading user. Navigation through Explorer with breadcrumbs is more radical than Leopard’s Breadcrumb navigation option.

Post-Installation Problems–

My Leopard install does not browse my network. I cannot see shares. iTunes does not see my AppleTV. My wife’s Tiger box browses it without difficulty, and I can directly connect without problems. Firefox, Cyberduck, and Adium are less stable or have annoying superficial changes after the upgrade. The fact that the Documents and Download folder icons are indistinguishable is annoying to me; however, that’s a OS X style issue more than a problem.

leopard documents and download folder icons

I feel no speed difference between Tiger and Leopard. I am currently using the Leopard upgraded box as my main laptop and see no reason to do a clean or archive type of upgrade at this time.

My Vista box continued to be very unstable with random crashes. I made a rough estimation that it would take me longer to debug the crashes than to restore my data from a clean installation. My clean installation of Vista worked much better. Even after the clean installation, the new Aero interface caused a slight, but detectable, drag on my system. A moderate upgrade of the video card helped make the system more brisk but not quite to XP levels. Copying and moving files is obviously slower. Running some programs required ‘Run as Administrator’ type of work-arounds.

Conclusion–

My Leopard installation went smoothly. Having never done an OS X upgrade before, I was expecting absolute perfection. Q always tells me that “OS X just works.” Things were not perfect, but the issues were minor.

My Vista upgrade was a disaster. Even if you ignore the show-stopping BSOD during installation, the upgraded product was ultimately unusable. The complete fresh install of Vista is not perfect either, but most of the eye candy and advancements are impressive. The Vista to XP jump is a much more ambitious step for Microsoft than the safer Tiger to Leopard jump for Apple.

My goal for this project was not to recommend one OS over the other. I use them both regularly, and the zealot fanboy arguments between the camps are silly. I wanted to contrast the upgrade experience between Leopard and Vista. This little experiment certainly answers many questions for me.

Once a patch is released to fix Leopard’s network issues, I will recommend that my wife upgrades her MBP. I will plead that my father not upgrade to Vista. The installation issues and the change in the user interface would challenge his (and thus my) sanity. As a lifelong windows user, I was appalled at the disaster that was the Vista upgrade process. For people purchasing top class windows hardware, I would be willing to recommend a Vista clean install. I do not believe that a clean install on older hardware is probably worth it.

My Personal Leopard Grades:

- Installation Process: A. Perfect.
- New Features: B. Time Machine, Stacks. (Techrx Tutorials)
- New Bugs: C. Network browsing.
- Consistent/Familiar User Interface: B.
- Eye-Candy Improvements: C. Changes can not be easily enabled/disabled.

My Personal Vista Grades:

- Installation Process: F. BSOD. Unusable upgraded product.
- New Features: B. Sidebar. DirectX10. Better security. (Techrx Tutorials)
- New Bugs: C. Slower copying.
- Consistent/Familiar User Interface: C.
- Eye-Candy Improvements: B. Up to OS X quality but customizable. Slows system.

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One thing that has impressed me with Vista is Microsoft’s lack of pushing of their own IM client.  With XP, one of the first things people did was to figure out how to uninstall MSN Messenger.

Now in Vista, users have option to download the new Live messenger client, but it does not come preinstalled and in your face. 

Hat tip to Microsoft.

If your XP box does not pass Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) validation, you can still convert to Vista without having to reformat your system.

However, you cannot use an Upgrade copy of Vista.  You must purchase the full retail version of Vista.

When installing with a full edition product key, Vista Setup does not need to verify Windows Genuine Advantage Validation.

Yes, it will cost you some extra coin.  However, the Vista upgrade only will work from within XP now.  Therefore, if you ever want to do a completely clean reinstall, you cannot do it with purchasing the upgrade option.  For these reason, I am suggesting that everybody spends the extra dollars and gets the full retail version. 

Installing over an old OS is always messy.  If you buy the Vista upgrade option, you’ll have no other option.

I typically love the manual way of fixing things; however, this software is priceless when dealing with the vista boot loader.

VistaBootPRO simplifies the confusing editing of the Boot Configuration Data store. In another words, it will help you config all your dual boot settings.

Want your dual boot setup to default to XP? This is your software. Want to remove an old boot entry, yep, this will help you.

Excellent stuff.


Click To View Blip.tv Screencast

Many of vista's new features are just a keyboard shortcut away. In this screencast I give a demonstration of some of these new vista features and shortcuts.

The youtube version of this screencast is lower quality but available as well.

With Vista rolling out soon, I though I would give my list of the top 15 Vista tutorials and tips from our experts here at tech-recipes. 

1.  Should you install the 64-bit or the 32-bit version of Vista? 

64-bit versus 32-bit — This is the most important question a user will need to figure out before making the jump to vista.  This article discusses the risk and benefits of each version.

2. Shrink icons in Start Menu to increase Efficiency

The new, large icons in vista are pretty; however, they take up too much screen real estate.  Shrink these icons down to size so you can more programs appear in your start menu.

3. Where is the Run box?

The Run command is gone from the vista start menu by default.  You can get to it by hitting winkey-R or you can use this tutorial to re-add it to the start menu xp-style.

4. How to Disable Vista’s Digital Driver Signing Enforcement

By default Vista will not allow the installation of any drivers that are not digitally signed.  This will prevent a lot of old hardware from working correctly with vista.  Here is a work-around for those issues.

5. Vista’s Mobile Utility

Hit winkey-X and vista will launch the Mobility Center to allow you to control mobile-specific issues such as power management, sync settings, screen rotation, and such.

6. Change Vista’s WEP Settings and Key

Vista’s network settings are in a much different place than in XP.  This walk-through will show you how to change your wireless settings.

7. Remove Vista’s Bootloader after a Dual Install

Many people will dual boot Vista with XP in order to try the new OS.  After uninstalling Vista, they are left with Vista’s new bootloader.  Here is how to remove it.

8. Eye-Candy: Use win-tab instead of alt-tab

More pretty than useful the new task switcher is one of the slick visual features added into the new OS.

9. How to disable DEP

NoExecute Protection is a wonderful new feature in Vista.  However, some older software/hardware will trigger DEP crashes.  To help you debug your system you can temporaily disable DEP.  This will prevent the crashes until you can remove the culprit.

10. Benchmark Your Vista System

Vista contains a sweet benchmarking and monitoring system.  What is the bottleneck in your vista box?

11. Add Links to the Favorite Links Sidebar in Vista’s Explorer

The new explorer interface contains a favorites sidebar that will hold links to areas within your system that you may frequently visit.  This explains how to add links to this new feature.

12. Keyboard shortcuts for Quick Launch

Every shortcut that is placed within Vista’s quick launch toolbar is assigned a keyboard shortcut.  Winkey+1 will automatically launch the first one, winkey+2 will automatically launch the second one, etc.

Bonus and Disclaimer: Prepare for the Worst

Upgrading into a new operating system can cause hours of pain.  Every user should backup their system before taking the plunge.  Using an offical upgrade walkthrough as directed by Microsoft is very helpful.  If you have problems or experience new bugs, ask for help on the official Microsoft Vista forums or on the tech-recipes forums.

Please feel free to share your best vista hints or tips either through the official tech-recipes submission form or in the comments below.  The best will be elgible for an amazon gift certificate or cool tech-recipes swag.