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Beta fish is back

February 29, 2012 Leave a comment

The Windows 8 Consumer Preview is now available to download and try out for free. This is a great opportunity to take the latest public cut of Windows 8 for a spin. Whether to dabble with HTML5 to create Metro apps or just explore the radical UI changes, trying out Windows 8 in a VM couldn’t be simpler. If you haven’t used virtual machines before Lifehacker has a great guide to get you started and Ars Technical have a nice series of screen grabs of the process.

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I do like the cute little touches like the Beta Fish shown during OS boot and on the default wallpaper. This, albeit cosmetic point, shows the painstaking attention the whole user experience has received. I’m sure cracks in the façade will emerge, but everything that I have experimented with so far and in the earlier developer preview has been very encouraging. Using Windows 8 does seem to require a fair amount of self-recalibration and I found it a little tricky initially figuring out how everything worked coming from the Win95-7 world. Luckily, Ars have an excellent orientation article if you find yourself floundering a little.

It’s a shame that virtual machines (and most current physical hardware) won’t allow experimenting with the full tablet experience on offer owing to a lack of appropriate touch interfaces. That said, it is still very possible to get a good feel for Windows 8 using the familiar keyboard and mouse. Despite my early misgivings about the Metro UX I am quite excited about where Microsoft are heading with their attempted transition to the post-PC era. Time and user adoption will tell whether their gamble has paid off.

Call of Duty 5: World at War Beta

November 2, 2008 1 comment

Just a brief post to tell everyone that the PC beta for Call of Duty 5: WaW has started. You have to register with CallofDuty.com who will email you a beta key and then download a ~866Mb client. I have only played it for about a couple of hours so far but I am quite impressed. The engine feels very CoD4-like but the maps and game-play are very different to reflect the World War 2 setting. Lots of new options and weapons so plenty to check out, including the fantasitcally sadistic inclusion of a pack of dogs as the 7-kill perk. Not sure whether or not it is quite up to Call of Duty 4 grade or not yet though….

Up in the cloud

October 1, 2008 Leave a comment

Microsoft has a number of core business revenue streams – otherwise known as cash cows. Despite strong indications that regardless of the recent lightweight application paradigm shift to the ‘cloud’ Microsoft have remained staunchly of the view that the operating system, as we know it today, will still be present in the future. So todays announcement indicating a potential branching from the desktop application centric philosophy is quite astonishing. According to ComputerWorld, Microsoft are looking to unveil a version of Windows codenamed  ‘Windows Clouds’ within a month. It will be very interesting to see the approach Mircosoft take with this project considering they are were quite keen to emphasise this will not detract from the ongoing Windows 7 work which is the planned successor to Windows Vista.

I previously weighed in on my opinion on cloud computing and very little has emerged to change my mind so far. I recently tried gOS v3 codename Gadgets which is the lightweight Linux distribution formally its own flavour based on the Enlightenment DR13 window manager and I am not that impressed. I found the integration between Google services (presented via barely concealed HTML widgets) and the operating system felt very amateurish. This coupled with the fact that version 3 is based on the more feature rich Gnome window manager, any assertion of this being a ‘stripped down’, light weight operating system for ‘netbooks’ sounds rather strained.

I do not doubt that one day, a certain percentage of desktops and laptops will be light weight (or thin client) systems accessing storage, applications and processing power from a ‘mothership’ in much the way cloud computing is evolving now. However it seems to make much more sense for a family or household or even a group of people to buy a central ‘home server’. This will however be very different to Windows Home Server and will resemble more the old style dumb terminals where multiple clients connect to one central machine.

Well that is my prediction, we will talk in ten years! For now, long live monster power rigs! :) As a final note, it will be interesting to see where Apple fit into this in the coming years. iSlim? iWeb? iJot?

Windows ‘Mojave’ Experiment

August 21, 2008 Leave a comment

I have been saying it all along and this just confirms it. Microsoft took (presumably) a random group of people and showed them the Windows ‘Mojave’, the purported successor to the ‘current’ Windows. So, forget about 7 and take a look for yourself.

I can’t really say too much more without giving the game away, although part of me wonders just how random this actually was. Without wishing to be offensive, these people do look to be fairly PC-illiterate and it wouldn’t be too hard for Microsoft to manipulate the outcome. On the other hand, with the amount of ill conceived rubbish being circulated about Vista it doesn’t take too great a leap of the imagination.

EDIT: Just did a bit of reading and found out the test bed for this experiment was a HP dv2000 laptop with 2Gb of RAM. I had a dv2799 (for a short duration) and I know they are very capable machines (although the workmanship is terrible – I have 4 go wrong but never-mind), however not outside the realms of the ‘average’ consumer system. This is good as it at least makes it a fairly fair demonstration.

Windows Media Center 2005 woes

July 23, 2008 Leave a comment

I managed to acquire, for the price of a nice lunch, a brand new Elonex media center Artisan LX a couple of days back. I was initially very excited because up to then I had still been running my first media center was really just an experiment, built from scratch containing mostly old components I had around my place. A year and a bit on, I am firmly hooked on a PC based PVR system the cornerstone of my entertainment system. It contained an Athlon 2600+ processor with 512Mb of DDR coupled with a DVB-T Hauppage tuner and an 80Gb drive for recordings running the open source MediaPortal software. So as you can see, there was plenty of room for improvement.

This was the first time I have really had a tinker with the Windows Media Center range of Operating systems that Microsoft produce and I went in with few expectations, apart from wanting at least as comparable an experience in terms of functionality and flexibility as I have enjoyed with MediaPortal.

The first thing that struck me was how fickle Windows Media Center 2005 was, even with all the roll ups (essentially what Microsoft call Service Packs for Media Center OS) installed. Wikipedia sums up the ‘capabilities’ of WMC 2005:

‘Media Center originally had a limitation of 1 analog tuner, but was raised to 2 analog tuners with Media Center 2005. With Update Rollup 1 for Media Center 2005, support for a digital tuner was added, but an analog tuner must still be present for the digital tuner to function. With Rollup 2, up to 4 TV tuners can be configured (2 analog and 2 HDTV). All the tuners must use the same source, for example they must all be off an aerial or a set-top box using the same guide data, you cannot mix Sky Digital and DVB-T for example.’

XP Media Center really shows its age here – I do not watch any analogue transmissions, so for a Media Center to require a legacy piece of hardware just to be able to access DVB (digital) seems preposterous. But that was not the worst thing! Windows Media Center 2005 is not capable of pulling EPG data OTA (over-the-air) instead requiring an overly elaborate system that relies on a permanent, always on Internet connection. This also raises some privacy concerns as ‘anonymous’ data, which is not entirely anonymous as Microsoft asks for your postcode during set up, is fed back to Microsoft which can include recording / watching trends and general EPG usage. Hitherto my media center system has not been networked. Considering it is in the opposite corner of my house, and I do not stream my recordings or have formal media shares, I never felt the need to network it. It was nice to just have a static, secure system without any security programs or periodic updates – now security monitoring of my media center has been added to my list of digital chores.

None the less, I was determined to give it a fair go, so I added a wifi adaptor, added some plug-ins and configured everything. After spending eight hours getting everything working, playing around and testing… I went back to my custom build. Not all the problems can be put squarely at Microsoft’s feet however. Elonex declared bankruptcy shortly after launching this range and the malicious part of me can see why, if this mediacenter is the sum total of their expertise.

Whilst the case looked rather nice from the outside, the hardware and the design of the internals is what really lets it down. The only element Elonex got right was the noise (or lack thereof) – the media center barely gives out a murmur when idle due to only a since fan which is housed inside the power supply. It runs at 690rpm, which draws air over the CPU heatsink (which has four heat pipes) and directly out the side of the case. However, I stressed ‘at idle’ before for a reason. When the media center does anything the incredibly noisy hard drive starts very audibly clicking and crunching away and it completely lets the machine down.

However that’s not the worst thing about this mediacenter. Due to the fact that there is only one very slow fan the airflow in the case is restricted to circulating around the motherboard tray, the processor then out the power supply. The harddrive and PCI / AGP cards are completely neglected. This point was slammed home when the harddrive consistently reported temperatures of high 50s to 62 degrees Celsius!!! Worse still, when I idled the system, that heat didn’t dissipate. The hard drive is locked into place with a pretentious plastic locking mechanism which neither improves the accessibility of the drive bay nor decreases the vibrations from the drive. There is no thermal (or thermally viable) contact between the hard drive and the case and as such, the hard drive is left smouldering away with no way to cool down predictably with next to no drop in temperature. There is a valid point that maintaining electronic components at a set temperature prolongs their life by avoiding constantly repeating thermal differentials (i.e. heating and cooling) however the fact remains that 60+ degrees centigrade is far too hot for a hard drive. Although my brief research on this did not yield any definitive threshold, most sources agree that 50-55 degrees Centigrade is about the absolute maximum recommended operating temperature.

Couple this practically zero thermal conduction with a lack of airflow and you have a recipie for a very short hard drive life. Even worse, this thermal issue was not limited to HDD, the south-bridge and GFX heatsinks were equally poorly cooled and get unpleasantly hot to the touch.

Worst of all, it is just slow. CpuID and the BIOS disagreed with each other about the exact Intel processor that powers the system. I believe it to be either an Intel Pentium 4 530 (at 3.06Ghz) or a Celeron D 345. There is no way the much older Athlon 2600+ processor with the same RAM should be out performing this setup and yet it does so without breaking a sweat.

All in all, very disappointing. A remarkable demonstration of technical ignorance on the part of Elonex. But hey, I didn’t pay for it and now I have an extra DVB-T tuner back in my original, self built machine.

Design (cosmetic) : 8/10 - Pleasing, with a nice Hi-fi look.

Design (technical) : 2/10 – Poor components poorly arranged.

Cooling : 6/10 - Great CPU and powersupply cooling, but everything else is woefully neglected.

Acoustics : 6/10 - Silent until it has to touch the harddrive, still a good effort though

Connectivity : 8/10 – Lots of connectors for digital Audio and Video

Capacity : 5/10 - 200Gb harddrive with a portion taken for recovery. I wouldn’t trust it though and by modern standards it is rather anemic.

Overall : 2/10 – Great for free, if I paid anything for it I would have been annoyed.

Post XP SP3 Update problem

July 18, 2008 2 comments

Despite all the problems circulating the web about Windows XP Service Pack 3, I thought I would go ahead anyway on a new installation. The installation part went fine and the system restarted properly with no lock ups, stops or looping restarts. So far so good, unfortunately I celebrated my good fortune too soon – Windows Update stopped functioning. Whilst updates were being downloaded, Windows XP would fail to actually perform the update.

I did a bit of googling and whilst I didn’t find any accounts exactly matching my problem, I decided to follow the advice on this Microsoft KB article.

First of all, stop the automatic update service from the command prompt.

1. Open up Start Menu > Run

2. Type “cmd” and press Enter.

3. In the command box, type “net stop wuauserv”, should should get the following confirmation:

Now we need to reregister the DLL involved in the Windows Update process.

4. Type in “regsvr32 %windir%\system32\wups2.dll”. The following control box should pop up after a moment:

Now we need to start the update service and hopefully all should be well again.

5. Type “net start wuauserv” which should yield this confirmation:

Thats it, updates started working for me immediately afterwards. If this didn’t do the trick for you, follow the alternative methods on Microsoft’s KB article linked above.

Another Vista Oddity

June 25, 2008 3 comments

Remember the classic Win9x / NT / XP Windows themes? Of course you do, many including me are still running such operating systems. One of the largest differences between these old themes and the new Vista Aero theme (apart from transparency effects and desktop compositing) is the lack of a control icon in some dialogs and Windows. This in itself is unremarkable, after all, new theme, new design right? Wrong.

I appears Windows Vista Aero still has an invisible icon in the top left hand corner of the window. Windows without control icons like Windows Explorer still have this invisible area where, if clicked (or double clicked) will react. Try it yourself!

Of course this is not particularly useful. We have not been double clicking control icons to close windows since the days of Windows 3.x, even still I find it amusing that the functionality remains if only to support the legacy themes that can be used in Windows Vista.

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