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A look into the mind of a VB Developer
 
# Saturday, 10 January 2009

Ok, I have to admit that I am sick and tired of being treated like a second class citizen simply because I own a kick-ass computer and decide to run the 64-bit version of Windows XP professional.

Today I had to try to do a remote assistance session to my mothers new computer (don't ask) and after some searching (because it would not work) I came across this little tidbit of information on the Microsoft web site.

Remote Assistance Is Not Available in Windows XP 64-Bit Edition
http://support.microsoft.com/kb/304727

Symptoms:
Windows XP 64-Bit Edition does not include the Remote Assistance feature.

Status:
This behavior is by design.

Holly freaking hell! Do they not call it the 'professional' version? Whats with not including a support feature in there?

Oh wait a second. I think I understand it... Just like the theme engine, the 64-bit version of something is so completely different that it would have been too hard to make it work in x64 so they just left it off right?

You know, I am usually pretty liberal in my love of MS stuff. Their software has helped me make a decent living over the years and I think that they generally do a pretty good job, but it's these little annoying things that keep getting under my skin like a tick.

Somebody there better wake up.

Oh, by the way, it works just fine on the 64-bit version of VISTA running the exact same copy of Windows Live Messenger so they CAN do it if they wanted to.



 

Saturday, 10 January 2009 22:00:43 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Comments [0]   OS  | 
# Sunday, 04 January 2009

I have been running Windows Vista (Business x64 Edition) since August 5th. In fact I upgraded my entire system just so I could run it. For those of you who know me I had a kick butt desktop system a while ago.

  • Super Micro Motherboard
  • Dual 3Ghz Dual Core with HT 64-bit Xeon processors (8 total cores)
  • 4 GB RAM
  • 800GB SATA3 HD
  • 2 dual head Nvidia 512 MB PCI video cards (4 total video heads)
  • 800 Watt PS

I was running Windows XP Professional x64 Edition for about 2 years on this rig and it ran great but the geek in me decided that he wanted to run Windows Vista. Yes, I was blinded by the new ‘cool’ looking stuff and I loved the side bar aspect of it. I had been running either the Desktop Sidebar or Yahoo Widgets to get a similar experience but had been plagued by a series of poorly written plug-ins that left me with a bit of a bad taste (like I thought Vista widgets may be better?). I purchased a copy of Vista Business x64 and made the leap. I actually purchased an additional HD to install it on so I could leave my XP setup alone for a while in case I had to revert back quickly. Good thing I did that.

Vista looked great but, even on a system with the backbone of two 64-bit 3Ghz Xeons the performance was abysmal. In fact the system ended up with an experience rating of 2.0! After a bit of investigation the problem was found to be the PCI video cards and were the components dragging the system down. All other aspects of the system had a 4.5 or better rating. I was stuck though because the mother board I had selected was server class and did not contain any speedy x16 PCIe slots. It did have two x1 slots but there was no way I was going to locate a decent video card to sit in there. So, it was off to Tiger Direct.

I ended up putting together a kick butt system that I was convinced was going to run Vista very well.

  • iStarUSA S-10000 ATX Full-Tower Server Case
  • Crucial Ballistix Dual Channel 4096MB PC6400 DDR2 800MHz EPP
  • Intel Pentium D 945 Processor HH80553PG0964MN - 3.40GHz, 4MB Cache, 800MHz FSB, Presler, Dual-Core
  • EVGA nForce 680i SLI Motherboard - T1 Version, NVIDIA nForce 680i SLI, Socket 775, ATX, Audio, PCI Express, SLI, Dual Gigabit LAN, S/PDIF, USB 2.0 & Fire-wire, Serial ATA, RAID
  • 2 - EVGA GeForce 8800 GT Video Cards - 512MB DDR3, PCI Express 2.0, SLI Ready, (Dual Link) Dual DVI, HDTV, Video Card
  • Thermaltake CPU Cooler / Big Typhoon VX / 4 in 1 / 6 Heat Pipes / 120mm Fan
  • Ultra X3 ULT40064 1000-Watt Power Supply - ATX, SATA-Ready, PCI-E Ready, Modular

As I already stated in my August 5th posting, it rocked. Vista went right in and ran great without issues this time (no duh right?).

Well, I learned another thing about this experience. The grass always seems greener on the other OS. The real core learning here is this:

"When Vista is good, it’s great, but when it starts to suck, it really starts to suck."

Stability

XP just seemed tighter to me, like a well built car. Sure it had its moments and crashed, but it seemed to recover from crashes much faster and simpler than Vista did. XP would blue screen one in a great while, and when it did it wrote its file and then would do a scan disk as expected. In fact I could always predict when it would run one. If I had a file open at the time of the crash it would run one, every time like clockwork. Vista never ran one on its own, ever. But I could tell that it was suffering from troubles after the reboot and when I set up a scan disk manually and ran it, sure enough, corrupted files, assembly because of the blue screen. Why did I have to take this step on my own? Seemed odd to me that Vista could not detect the junked files but I knew they were there and XP used to detect them.

Now I have to admit that not all the BSODs were Vistas fault. It turns out that I did have one bad stick of RAM and that was playing havoc on the system after about the first month, but the system never felt right after the first 2 blue screens that it took for me to figure that out. I am convinced that had it not been for that bad stick of RAM I may still be running a stable system to day on Vista. But, what does that say about an OS that can be killed buy one bad stick of RAM? Hmmm.

Gadgets

They are really handy, but, as with the others, I also found that the quality of the code was not great. The standard Windows gadgets seemed OK, but they were slim on functionality and not all that I needed. I wanted one that included system stats (like available HD space) so I had to download one of those (and there were several available) but I also needed one that gave me status on Bit-torrent downloads and I have to say that, after a lengthy test effort, I could not seem to locate a single one that did not seem to have a memory leak lurking around that caused a ton of crashes. It seems that one bad gadget can really take the system down hard. It seems to me that they do not have a great system of process isolation there if that can happen.

Aero

What can I say? It looks awesome, but in the grand scheme of things, it adds zero value to the actual usability of the system. I have a feeling that MS was relying on the slick glass interface to lure folks in with the ‘aw, cool’ factor, and it worked :) but, the novelty soon wears off. It’s kind of like when you think you want one of those tall lanky blond babes and realize that they have zero personality, no brains, and you realize that all they want is for you to buy them stuff. Sure other guys walk by and ogle at her and wish they had one, but son enough you really feel like tossing her to the curb and getting a good woman like I ended up with :)

UAC

What more can I say about this that has not already been said by hundreds in the press or even other users. It’s an interesting concept, but what I think is a flawed implementation. To be honest I am not sure what you COULD do here really. Let’s face it. What we really need is simply smarter users. UAC is not going to fix that. I think the idea was perhaps to help educate people as to how often things happen behind the scenes that perhaps they never were aware of before or never gave a second thought about, but come one. I had to ‘allow’ files to be moved from one drive to another even though it was clear that it was ME doing the dragging in dropping. I tried, I really did, to live with UAC enabled but in the end, after about a month it got shut off. Let’s face it. I am a tinkerer, and a pretty good one at that, so I am all over the place at times and really grew to hate that UAC dialog box after a while.

I do give MS credit for allowing it to be turned off though. I think maybe it should be off by default on the business versions and on by default on the home versions. UAC should do two things. First, it needs to know when the act being monitored is being performed by the user or by a process and act accordingly to stay the heck out of the way, and second, it needs to learn a bit and stay out of the way if it gets dismissed at the same spot all the time. Maybe allow a person to turn off notifications on file copy\move with a check box or something.

Application compatibility

I know this is a big one, but come on. The reason I waited as long as I did to run Vista was because I had to wait for Visual Studio 2005 (an MS application) to work on their own OS without causing issues :) I was really annoyed at the issues I had with a few apps. VMware server was a major annoyance. I was a major user of Virtual machines for software testing and there was no reliable way to get it installed as part of Vista simply because the folks there seemed to refuse to sign their damn drivers. Now you may think that this is all the fault of the folks over at VMware, but in reality I think it’s not ALL their fault. Vista does allow you to turn off signed driver checking (under the advanced start-up options in the F8 menu) but you are required to do this every time you start up! UGH!!! It just felt nasty doing that, kind of like I was forced to run in safe mode all the time. It just felt dirty. Visual Studio 2003 was another major problem. I know it’s old, and that there were major issues with the debugger that were causing problems, and I understand that it would have taken significant effort on the order of man-months to get 2003 working on Vista well, but my only option was to run VS2003 in a VM to maintain my old code base. Ooops! Guess what? All my VMs were rendered useless because VMware would not run well with out a major hack :) Now I have to install the MS VM (Virtual PC) product just to get VS2003 working? No thinks. I just kept an old Dual proc PIII XP machine alive for that.

I do think I owe it to the folks at MS though to say that Vista did seem to handle most of my other apps quite well. These were really the only, although major to me, applications that I had problems\issues with.

Performance

Man, nothing feels better to me speed wise than good old Windows XP Professional. Vista was nice and flashy, but unlike buying a Ferrari where you expect it to be a bit high-maintenance but are willing to put up with it because of the growling performance you are getting, I always felt Vista was slower than it should have been.

Start-up was always fast. Power-up to desktop in less than 2 minutes was great, but in all honesty XP is the same here for the most part, maybe 3 minutes, but start-up speed is not where I spend most of my day. In fact I hardly ever turn my system off so unless I am recovering from a crash I care little about start-up speed, and then I am expecting a scan-disk to be run.

File copy\move speed was awful. Look, I really don’t care if you calculate the time its will take for the files to copy or not, but if you do, do NOT make me wait for you to add up all the file sizes to do it. Running a few timings showed that about one third of my time was wasted by that ‘calculating’ junk to happen. This definitely showed one of two things. Either the UI was designed by an engineer or the UI was designed by a marketing person, either way, the next time someone other than a UI expert gets into the chair push them out and do the job right. XP may be a bit off on times but it is FAST so more often than not the time is irrelevant.

Network speed was terrible. One of the things that really ticked me off lately was the fact that I could not get my new Verizon FiOS working properly with Vista. Windows XP required that I run the TCP optimizer form SpeedGiude.net but once I did this simple task it flew (20/5 service is cool). This tool does nothing with Vista. In fact the IP stacks in Vista are apparently ‘tuned’ so this is not needed. BUNK! I was lucky to get 5 Mb\sec downstream on Vista while the XP box right next to it was getting 22. After doing some digging I found that Vista DID have a known issue and there was a fix released in SP1 (that I already had installed) that allowed you to tweak a bit by using a registry hack, still not by using the optimizer tool, that DID allow my speed to get BETTER, but I was still not getting 20. Speed tests over the course of 1 week done every day showed that I was getting no more than 16. I also ran a few tests on my local network just doing simple file copies across my LAN. Although the tests were very non-scientific, the results where interesting. Simply copying a 1GB file across to a file server running Windows 2003, over a 100Mb LAN connection took an extra 4 minutes on my Vista machine than Windows XP.

Conclusion

So, after all that, I am sad (happy) to say that I am once again back on good old comfy Windows XP. It’s fast, clean and very much uncluttered. I actually feel relaxed using it. I had not really felt it before but Vista seemed to make me always feel like I was moving. XP lets me work and lets me feel calm while I do it. I get my VS2003 back for when I need it. I have my VMware images back (a few of which will be running Vista for testing) and I think I may just keep it for a long time.

All I can say is really, honestly, truly I hope Windows 7 is better.

 

 

Sunday, 04 January 2009 10:37:37 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Comments [2]   Vista | OS  | 
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