Posts Tagged ‘Operating System’

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.


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.

Serious Android Flaw

November 10, 2008 2 comments

Just a brief post to direct anyone who has or is considering buying an Android device to an article detailing a rather shocking security glitch. It turns out, probably due to a botched debug code cleanup, that the devices run with a terminal in the background capturing any and all keystrokes!

When the phone booted it started up a command shell as root and sent every keystroke you ever typed on the keyboard from then on to that shell. Thus every word you typed, in addition to going to the foreground application would be silently and invisibly interpreted as a command and executed with superuser privileges. Wow!

Be careful what you type in your text messages or URLs otherwise you might end up with a trashed software stack…

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.

Vista SP1 and the Red Herring (+ breaking the 32bit 4Gb limit)

May 29, 2008 6 comments

We all knew it was looming, the mathematical limit to address referencing in 32bit computing. A 32Bit number can only be between 0 and 4,294,967,295 which neatly adds up to 4Gb and what this means is, using existing architectures, a program (or Operating System) will not be able to address more than this number of bytes of system RAM via the existing system called byte addressed memory allocation.

What this means for those among us who do not speak geek, is a system which is built or shipped with 4Gb of RAM (and some other cases*) will not be able to fully utilise all of that space.

Lets take a trip back in history and imagine a room with a cupboard containing 256 drawers. Each drawer could hold one bit of binary information and was administered by a librarian. Anytime anyone wanted a piece (or pieces) of information, they had to ask the librarian. What I am describing here, is the era of 8bit computing circa late 1970/ early 80s with the cupboard representing system memory and the librarian representing the Operating System’s memory management system. During day to day running of the system the librarian takes data in and returns data to people (program threads) from the corresponding drawers where the information is stored. Everything works, everyone is happy.

Now what happens if we introduce a second cupboard containing another 128 or 256 drawers? The librarian can only keep track of information stored in the first 256 drawers and as a result, nothing can be stored or retrieved from the newly added cupboards; in effect, they do not exist. Time to get a new secretary i.e. goto 64bit computing (or in this example, replace the 8bit librarian with a swanky 16bit one – who will even ever use 65536bits of RAM? :D )

But wait, there is more… I read today that Windows Vista SP1 changes (depending on hardware configuration) the total amount of displayed RAM from 3.5 Gb (current the RTM limit when 4Gb is put in the machine) to the full 4Gb, although this still does not help, given the limitation previously discussed. But this made me curious, if the Operating System could see RAM, then surely it was not a BIOS / mathematical fundamental limitation. Turns out I was at least half right …

You see, although the fundamental mathematical limitation can not be breached, there is a rather interesting technique called Physical Address Extension. Using this process, a 32bit Windows system can address more than 4Gb of RAM upto a (present) maximum of 128Gb. To explain what Physical Address Extension (PAE) is, lets go back to the previous example and introduce a new figure – an administrator.

The role of this new entity, is to allocate and manage the time of their underling. Lets also assume we are still running a 8bit system (with the 256bit limit) and have 1024bits of memory i.e. four times the mathematical limit. On the face of it, the extra memory is invisible to the librarian however the administrator is smart enough to both know about the extra memory and who (i.e. what program) is currently using what amount of it. As such, any person (program) can request the full mathematical limit 256 drawers for their own use at the same time as another person (and another …etc) requests more memory.The administrator can instruct the librarian which series of drawers to use per person (program).

This is loosely referred to as 36bit computing and, as the non power of 2 number suggests it is a bit of a tweak. The physical address size was increased (on a 32bit processor) from 32 to 36bits back during the days of Pentium Pro (circa 1997) and most modern CPUs have maintained this legacy. It is important to point out, this does not make all 32bit processors 36bit processors as the change happened in the MMU (memory management unit). Modern Operating systems use page tables to store information about the Virtual Memory system and allocate it based on processes requirements. In effect they act like the administrator from my trivialised example and allow multiple processes to benefit from a pool of memory which traditional 32bit systems (without PAE) would not.

I know what you are thinking, you are rejoicing at being able to avoid the negative aspects of migrating to 64bit computing, but hang on, there are a couple of important caveats. Firstly, each thread (person in our example) can only access a maximum of the mathematical limit of RAM. That means, in a system with 16Gb of RAM, you could quite easily have 3 or 4 processes each taking up 4Gb, but no one process taking up 8 or 16Gb. The other bad point is, it is not supported** in Vista or XP. In-fact, to use such a feature, you would need to be running a Server Operating System from Microsoft or a Linux equivalent. Interestingly enough, Linux contains support for PAE since kernel version 2.6 although I will not discuss it further in this post.

Presently, the only Operating Systems with suitable (or rumoured) PAE support are :

Windows 2000: Datacenter Server and Advanced Server Editions

Windows Server 2003: Enterprise and Datacenter Editions

Windows Server 2008: Enterprise and Datacenter Editions

As you can see, non are particularly home desktop friendly. So, despite Vista displaying the correct amount of RAM in Service Pack 1, it is still fundamentally limited to the 32bit mathematical limit despite Microsoft having the technology to at least improve on the functionality of such systems.

On a side note, I brought this up with a few people at my head office. I work for a large UK retail company that sells PCs and Laptops. I was surprised to see when our first 4Gb models came into the stores a few months ago that they were running Vista 32bit Editions. The UK is not a litigious as the United States, but I can’t help wondering how long it will be before the lawsuits start flying. After all, it is misrepresentation in my book to sell something that, due to a software shortcoming, can never be fully utilised to the specification it was advertised at. Particularly since an alternative is available to OEMs and yet, all retailers not just the one I work for seem to be taking a cavalier attitude towards this.

*The total amount of addressable space inside a 32bit system must add up to 4096Mb, this includes system and Video RAM, so if you have an all singing, all dancing SLI graphics card with 2Gb of Graphical RAM, the total amount of system RAM you will be able to address is around 2Gb.

**Actually this is not true, ever since Windows XP Service Pack 2, Microsoft has used PAE for security purposes coupled with the NX bit. This is a hardware security feature built into a processor which allows program and system developers greater control over what they designate to be executable and non-executable user/memory space. Microsoft has set a fundamental limitation of the amount of RAM being used by home versions of 32bit Operating Systems to 4Gb regardless of the fact the technology to increase this is in place.

PC Recovery How-to

April 30, 2008 Leave a comment

This started off a reproduction of a leaflet I wrote for the company I work for. It basically attempts to answer the question : “How do I recover my computer” or “How do I run a system recovery” (and permutations there-of) in as few lines as possible. Because I am not constrained for space on here, I have expanded on it somewhat and will continue to do so, if you have any questions, feel free to comment and ask.

The reason for this procedure is simple – recovering your system to the ‘shipped’ or factory settings is the best way to clean your system. Over time Operating Systems (Windows is the worst for this) accumulate lots of rubbish. This can be in the form of zombie or orphan dependencies (e.g. .DLL or .OCX files in Windows that are no longer needed) miscellaneous and or useless configuration or drivers and even damaging or misinstalled components. Some retails can not take in laptops or computers for warranty repair unless a full system recovery has been performed first due to the high occurrence of non-supported software related problems being futily sent to manufacturers for hardware repair.

Please note, a full system recovery is NOT the same as a Windows Restore / System Restore point recovery or a partial system recovery. In some cases, Windows Recovery Environment (only on Windows Vista) can solve the issue although I mostly have found it time consuming and unhelpful.

Step 1: Back up all your data

When done correctly, a full system restore will completely wipe your computer. This means all your data (e.g. photos, documents, music) and settings (e.g. ISP / Internet, Web Passwords etc) will be removed. Please make sure you have a complete copy of all the data you wish to save on a external source (e.g. a USB Flash drive, USB Harddrive, CD/DVD, NAS etc) before you continue.

Step 2: Determining what recovery method your PC / Laptop uses.

Regardless whether the unit is a PC or a Laptop, it would have been shipped with a method for recovery. This can be in the form of backup CD/DVD(s) or preinstalled on the computer in a hidden ‘partition’ on the computer’s hard drive. You may have been required to create the recovery discs yourself when you first switched on the computer. If this was the case you normally would have been prompted. If you have not created recovery disks or something has happened to render your recovery partition useless, see troubleshooting #4.

Step 3a: Performing the Recovery with Recovery Discs

If your machine has (or came with discs) read on, if not, skip to the section 3b.

Put the (first if applicable) recovery disc into your machine and restart the computer. When the computer switches on, you may be presented with the option to ‘boot from Optical / CD / DVD / Media’, press enter (or the key specified) to do this.
The disc should now boot into the recovery mode. (If not, see troubleshooting #1.)

Follow the on screen instructions. When imaging / recovery is complete, your computer will restart. Remove the recovery disc from the drive when prompted.

Recovery should be complete, follow any remaining instructions on the screen.

Step 3b: Performing the Recovery from a Recovery Parition or Image.

If your machine has backup software installed on the hard drive, please read on.

The process is very similar to the one discussed in section 3a, except there will be a short time window where a certain key combination will need to be pressed BEFORE Windows XP / Vista starts to load. If you see Windows XP / Vista start to load, you have missed the window of opportunity and should restart and try again. A PC or laptop system will go through the following steps whilst booting:

1) Video card POST *

2) Main BIOS Post (CMOS and Ram check)

3) Secondary BIOS POST (for RAID cards or some legacy 13h network equipment) *

4) Cycle through boot device order. At this point you might see a small white icon flashing in the top left corner for a moment.

5) Transfer execution to boot sector (MBR) of specified harddrive.

6) Windows starts to boot.

* Only applicable to some systems.

This key combination changes depending on the model and manufacturer but will be something along the lines of [alt]+[shift]+[F10] (for Acer PCs) or [F12] (for some Toshiba and HP models) etc. More confusingly, different manufacturers check for this key combination in different places. Acer tend to check for the keypress predominantly during stage 3 to 4 although some models exist which check for the key combination during BIOS POST (stage 2), HP base units normally check during stage 2 whilst their laptops wait until stage 3 to 4. The general rule is start pressing the keys when the BIOS shows up and keep pressing them until you get to the recovery partition. If your operating system starts to boot, simply restart and try again. CHECK with your manufacturer the key combination your system looks for.

When done correctly, it will take you to the recovery section of your computer. Follow the on screen instructions selecting, if asked, the full system recovery option. If this fails, please see troubleshooting #3.

Recovery should be complete, follow any remaining instructions on the screen.

For more detailed information relating to your specific model, please consult the manufacturer’s website or helpline.

#1 - Can’t Boot from Recovery Discs
If you are trying to run a recovery from a CD/DVD but it is not loading (booting) from the disc, you will need to make sure the CD/DVD drive is checked before the hard drive (containing the software issue) is read by the BIOS.

You will need to go into the BIOS by pressing a button almost immediately after the computer is turned on. This can be [F2], [F8], [F10] or [Del] depending on the specific model you have.

CAUTION, do not touch anything other than what is directed here.

When inside the BIOS, check the ‘boot order’ to make sure the CD/DVD drive is booted first. These drives can be called a number of different things, when in doubt consult the manufacturer. When you have changed the boot order, save the configuration into the CMOS and let the computer reboot.

#2 - I have lost my recovery discs / I didn’t back up my recovery software
Some manufacturers have a facility to send you replacement discs if you have failed to keep or create your recovery software. There may be a charge related to this service, please contact the manufacturer. (See #4)

#3 - Can’t Boot from Recovery Partition / Recovery from recovery partition fails
Some software problems (e.g. malware / viruses) can corrupt the built in software recovery. If this has happened, there will be no way to complete the software recovery and you should contact the manufacturer for further instructions. (See #4)

#4- Recovery partition destroyed / useless or no recovery option.
There is a more advanced way to perform a system recovery than using the built in recovery method. I would only reccommend this for more advanced users as it involves manually installing and setting up Windows (XP or Vista) and installing drivers by hand. You may also need to be comfortable manually partitioning your hard drive. This method will give you a better, more responsive system free of crapware / bloatware preinstalled be the manufacturers as well as potentially utilise wasted hard drive space.

With almost all Vista PCs (I will cover XP in a moment) you will receive a Vista Installation DVD. This DVD contains every version of Windows Vista and you can use it to wipe your computer and reinstall Windows Vista. The process to using the disk is the same as is outlined in Section 3a substituting the recovery discs for the Vista disc. Simply select the version of Windows Vista that came with your machine (you can install any edition of Vista e.g. Home Premium / Basic, Business or Ultimate but it will be limited to a 30 day demo) if you are unsure which version you have, check the side of your PC (or under side of your laptop) for your Microsoft Certificate of Authenticity (sometimes called CoA.) This brightly coloured certificate will not only have the version of Windows you are entitled to use written on it, but your Product Serial key as well – this will be important as it proves you are entitled to run the particular version of Windows and will be required during the installation.

Alternatively, if you are using Windows XP (or another Operating System like 98/95, NT, 2000, Server etc) you may need to obtain a Windows CD. I am not sure of the legality of this, but if you find a download somewhere online for a Windows CD image (I won’t provide a link) and install it using the Product Serial key provided on your certificate of authenticity, strictly speaking you are not committing piracy as you are entited to run that operating system on that machine. Because I am not a lawer, I do not know if such a proceedure would be legal and as such can not recommend it. You can always buy a new CD (OEM version) or go directly to the manufacturer for a replacement.

Once Windows Vista/XP (etc) has installed, you will have the basic framework for your PC / laptop. What will still be missing is the drivers and software. Drivers can be downloaded from the manufacturers website and should be done prior to reformating your computer. Some operating systems (XP and prior although to a lesser extent Vista as well) will need security software loaded onto them before you allow the computer to be exposed to the Internet. There are a number of free alternatives as well as commercial options.
Useful Contact Numbers (for the UK)

Sony 0870 240 2408
Acer 0870 853 1002
HP 0870 010 4320
Toshiba 0870 220 2202
Fujitsu Siemens 0870 243 4390

Vista SP1 – A reflection

March 23, 2008 2 comments

It is interesting how perusing or glancing at the popular tech topic currently doing the rounds on wordpress can give an insight into the impact such announcements (or software/game/hardware/press releases etc) are having on the general public. Its all well and good reading about something (in this case Vista Service Pack 1) from recognised tech insiders such as Paul Thurrott, it is far more telling to read about the experiences everyone else is having.

Here are a selection of headlines from the last few days,

Vista wreaks havok on some PCs, users complain (anti Vista blog), My Nightmare trying to upgrade to SP1 (Insightful look into incompatible drivers), Vista SP1 update not showing up is for your own good (Reasons why SP1 may not be available yet for some people), SP1 Now available, Delayed, Delayed, Delayed, SP1 Day two (interesting positive feedback from a user), Hell has frozen over (overexcited user).

And guess what? Its not (entirely) the usual doom and gloom and has become almost ubiquitous when it comes to reports about Vista. Vista Service Pack 1 has come a long way since internal betas handed out to the Microsoft beta testers. These poor guys must have been feeling particularly abused this time round if the early write ups are anything to go by. With several restarts required to complete the process (and a few hours) these so-called tech elite reported back their thoughts on the process and as you can imagine, even the most staunchly pro-Microsoft of them has a few ‘choice’ comments to make.

But anyway, fast forward to now and you will see in your Windows Updates Vista Service Pack 1 waiting patiently for you to let it into your digital home. Software and hardware compatibility is good and the lengthy installation process has been slimmed down dramatically to a single reboot after completion. Inevitably it won’t go that way for everyone with some users reporting issues with certain drivers. To Microsoft’s credit, a fairly comprehensive list of drivers that have issues has been published and I have reproduced the list below.

Realtek AC’97

For x86-based computers: Alcxwdm.sys – version or earlier
For x64-based computers: Alcwdm64.sys – version or earlier

For x86-based computers: Sthda.sys – version 5.10.5762.0 or earlier
For x64-based computers: Sthda64.sys – version 5.10.5762.0 or earlier

For x86-based computers: Stwrt.sys – version 6.10.5511.0 or earlier
For x64-based computers: Stwrt64.sys – version 6.10.5511.0 or earlier
Creative Audigy

For x86-based and x64-based computers: Ctaud2k.sys – version or earlier
For x86-based computers: P17.sys – all versions (This was originally a Windows XP-based driver.)
Conexant HD Audio

For x86-based computers: Chdart.sys – version or earlier
For x64-based computers: Chdart64.sys – version or earlier
Display drivers

Intel Display

For x86-based computers: Igdkmd32.sys – versions between and including driver and
For x64-based computers: Igdkmd64.sys – versions between and including driver and

Unfortunately, I am the (not-so) proud owner of a Ac’97 soundcard in my primary laptop so it looks like I may have to fish around for drivers (AGAIN!!) to get my laptop to work properly with Redmond’s latest offering. The issues here are not Microsoft’s fault. Infact, as several tech insiders have noted, Microsoft was beating the drum about drivers to ODM/OEMs for months prior to Vista’s (and SP1′s) release but when the moment came to deliver, most manufacturers did not come to the party.

The reason is simply, it is not really cost effective. Take a computer you bought in the last few years (or Motherboard) and goto the manufacturer’s website and check the date of the ‘latest’ drivers (or BIOS.) Whilst these companies are fairly diligent during the product’s lifecycle, when they move onto something else, they stop putting out bugfixes or updates because it no longer makes commercial sense for them to pay their software engineers to do so. When Vista came out, many people had equipment (like me) that was designed for XP but could, with a fair amount of tweaking, run Vista very comfortably. The problem I (and many others) faced was a complete lack of native driver support for this hardware. I understand the problem, but I still think it is ridiculous. Microsoft did try to smooth this over by building in a compatibility layer into Vista to allow the loading of some XP drivers and while this helped a lot, there were performance penalties.

For now, I am not particularly fussed about SP1 so I will be sticking to vanilla Vista until either these driver issues are resolved (unlikely) or I get the time to find replacement drivers for my laptop.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: