Category Archives: vista

Microsoft still paying the price for botched Vista with muddled development strategy

Professional Developers Conference 2003. Windows Longhorn is revealed, with three “pillars”:

  • Avalon, later named Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF)
  • Indigo, later named Windows Communication Foundation (WCF)
  • WinFS, the relational file system that was later abandoned

With the benefit of hindsight, Microsoft got many things right with the vision it set out at PDC 2003. The company saw that a revolution in user interface technology was under way, driven by the powerful graphics capabilities of modern hardware, and that the old Win32 graphics API would have to be replaced, much as Windows itself replaced DOS and the command-line. XAML and WPF was its answer, bringing together .NET, DirectX, vector graphics, XML and declarative programming to form a new, rich, presentation framework that was both designer-friendly and programmer-friendly.

Microsoft also had plans to take a cut-down version of WPF cross-platform as a browser plugin. WPF/Everywhere, which became Silverlight, was to take WPF to the Mac and to mobile devices.

I still recall the early demos of Avalon, which greatly impressed me: beautiful, rich designs which made traditional Windows applications look dated.

Unfortunately Microsoft largely failed to execute its vision. The preview of Longhorn handed out at PDC, which used Avalon for its GUI, was desperately slow.

Fast forward to April 2005, and Windows geek Paul Thurrott reports on Longhorn progress:

I’m reflecting a bit on Longhorn 5048. My thoughts are not positive, not positive at all. This is a painful build to have to deal with after a year of waiting, a step back in some ways. I hope Microsoft has surprises up their sleeves. This has the makings of a train wreck.

Thurrott was right. But why did Longhorn go backwards? Well, at some point – and I am not sure of the date, but I think sometime in 2004 – Microsoft decided that the .NET API for Longhorn was not working, performance was too bad, defects too many. The Windows build was rebased on the code for Server 2003 and most of .NET was removed, as documented by Richard Grimes.

Vista as we now know was not a success for Microsoft, though it was by no means all bad and laid the foundation for the well-received Windows 7. My point though is how this impacted Microsoft’s strategy for the client API. WPF was shipped in Longhorn, and also back-ported to Windows XP, but it was there as a runtime for custom applications, not as part of the core operating system.

One way of seeing this is that when Longhorn ran into the ground and had to be reset, the Windows team within Microsoft vowed never again to depend on .NET. While I do not know if this is correct, as a model it makes sense of what has subsequently happened with Silverlight, IE and HTML5, and Windows Phone:

  • Windows team talks up IE9 at PDC 2010 and does not mention Silverlight
  • Microsoft refuses to deliver a tablet version of Windows Phone OS with its .NET application API, favouring some future version of full Windows instead

Note that in 2008 Microsoft advertised for a job vacancy including this in the description:

We will be determining the new Windows user interface guidelines and building a platform that supports it. We’ll eliminate much of the drudgery of Win32 UI development and enable rich, graphical, animated user interface by using markup based UI and a small, high performance, native code runtime.

In other words, the Windows team has possibly been working on its own native code equivalent to XAML and WPF, or perhaps a native code runtime for XAML presentation markup. Maybe this could appear in Windows 8 and support a new touch-oriented user interface.

In the meantime though, Microsoft’s developer division has continued a strong push for .NET, Silverlight and most recently Windows Phone. Look at Visual Studio or talk to the development folk, and you still get the impression that this is the future of Windows client applications.

All this adds up to a muddled development story, which is costly when it comes to evangelising the platform.

In particular, eight years after PDC 2003 there is no clarity about Microsoft’s rich client or RIA (Rich Internet Application) designer and developer story. Is it really WPF, Silverlight and .NET, or is it some new API yet to be revealed, or will IE9 as a runtime play a key role?

There is now a little bit more evidence for this confusion and its cost; but this post is long enough and I have covered it separately.

Apple’s Mac App Store – and the forgotten Windows Marketplace

Apple launched the Mac App Store yesterday and I had a look this morning. It is only available to users of Mac OS X Snow Leopard, where it comes with the latest system update.


It is interesting that Apple has not used iTunes for the App Store, but has developed new client software. Maybe it is coming round to opinion that iTunes has become bloated; it is only for historic reasons that a music player has become an all-purpose app installer.

The store itself worked well for me. I picked a free app, TextWrangler, and signed in with my Apple ID. The UI showed Installing, then Installed, and I was done.


The TextWrangler icon appeared in the Dock so I could start the app easily.

What counts is what I did not have to do – reboot, select from setup options, or deal with perplexing error messages.

Users will also like the common-sense licensing, which lets you download and install a purchased app on any Mac you use, controlled by your App Store log-in. I am not sure what happens if you install your app on your friend’s Mac, then sign out of the App Store. There is some link between the app and your Apple ID, because if you copy the application to another Mac it will ask for your sign-in details when you first run it, but I am not clear whether this is checked on every run to deter piracy.

Most important, there is an attractive range of apps at good prices. In the UK, Angry Birds is £2.99, Pinball HD £1.79, and Apple Pages or Keynote £11.99 each. That is less than typical Apple Store shrink-wrap prices. The prices for Pages and Keynote makes the price Microsoft charges for Office look impossibly expensive. Good for customers; but worrying for independent software vendors who want to make a living.

Developers pay $99.00 per year to join the Mac Developer Program and then 30% commission to Apple on every sale. Of course, like the iPhone App Store, apps are subject to Apple’s approval.

Lest you think it is clever of Apple to invent an app store for the desktop, it is worth noting that the concept is an old one. Linux has delivered free software like this for years, and some distributions have also featured paid app installers integrated into the OS.

So has Microsoft, which has run various varieties of Windows Marketplace over the years, for mobile and desktop applications. Windows Vista shipped with an app store for both Microsoft and third-party apps built-in. It was on the Start menu:


as well as in Control Panel:


On November 1st 2008 Microsoft shut down Windows Marketplace and “transitioned” it to a referral site. There was some angst at the time about the closing of the digital locker, which proved insecure against the threat of corporate mind-changing. It still runs the online Microsoft Store, but this is for Microsoft-only products. For example, you can download Microsoft Songsmith for £25.00:


Why did Windows Marketplace fail? Well, the user experience was poor, it was insufficiently prominent in the Vista user interface, setup could be troublesome. Major Windows app vendors figured out that they would be better off drawing potential customers to their own web sites, where they have full control. As is often the case, Microsoft was conflicted over whether it wanted to drive customers to the online store, or to partner retailers, or to app vendor sites; and the OEMs would have their say as well, when customising Windows for their own PCs.

Another factor is that Windows apps are often not well isolated. Silverlight actually solves this problem – out-of-browser apps are well isolated and secure – but Microsoft does not even ship Silverlight by default with Windows.

The indications are that Microsoft will have another go in Windows 8. Documents leaked last year show an app store. From my post at the time:

There’s a pattern here. Microsoft gets bright idea – Tablet, Windows Marketplace, Passport. Does half-baked implementation which flops. Apple or Google works out how to do it right. Microsoft copies them.

Switching from Windows will not protect your data, says Trusteer CEO

I’ve just been sent some quotes from Mickey Boodaei, CEO of Trusteer, which caught my eye. It’s a response to the story that Google is directing employees not to use Windows because of security concerns.

Boodaei says that while switching from Windows may reduce the prevalence of common malware, it will not protect against “targeted attacks” – in other words, attempts to penetrate a specific network to steal data:

Enterprises that are considering shifting to an operating system like Mac or Linux should realize that although there are less malware programs available against these platforms, the shift will not solve the targeted attacks problem and may even make it worse. Mac and Linux are not more secure than Windows. They’re less targeted. There is a big difference. If you choose a less targeted platform then there is less of a chance of getting infected with standard viruses and Trojans that are not targeting you specifically. This could be an effective way of reducing infection rates for companies that suffer frequent infections.

In a targeted attack where criminals decide to target a specific enterprise because they’re interested in its data assets, they can very easily learn the type of platform used (for example Mac or Linux) and then build malware that attacks this platform and release it against the targeted enterprise.

The security community is years behind when it comes to security products for Mac and Linux. Therefore there is much less chance that any security product will be able to effectively detect and block this attack. By taking that action the enterprise increases its exposure to targeted attacks, not reducing it.

This sounds plausible, though there are a couple of counter-arguments. Windows has some flaws that are not present on Mac or Linux. It is still common for users to run with full local admin rights, even though user account control in Vista and Windows 7 mitigates this by requiring the user to approve certain actions. On Windows, it’s also more likely that you will have to give elevated rights to some application that wants to write to to a system location; there’s a specific “Run as administrator” option in the compatibility options.

Further, I’m always sceptical of statements from the Windows security industry. Are they simply trying to protect their business?

Still, I’m inclined to agree that switching OS is not a silver bullet that will fix security. Take a look at this recent report of malware-infected web sites offering tips for a current hit game, Read Dead Redemption.

The attack is essentially psychological. It plays on the common knowledge that Windows is vulnerable to malware, informing the user that malware has been detected and they must clean it up by running a utility. The utility, of course, is in fact the malware. The chances are good that the user will consent to giving it elevated permissions, once they have been taken in. In principle this kind of attack could work on other operating systems, except that the user might be more sceptical about the presence of malware because it is less common – a rather frail defence.

In-place upgrade adventures with Windows 7

I have just done Windows 7 RTM in-place upgrades on two systems, one running Vista Ultimate x64, and the other running Vista Business x64. Why do an in-place upgrade? Simply because it is much less time and effort than a clean install. Actually, the “less time” bit needs qualification. The in-place upgrade takes several hours; I left one running overnight. However, most of the time is spent leaving the setup chugging away. It does not take much effort from you.

By contrast, a clean install involves finding all your application setup disks or downloads, serial numbers, and patches, then installing and configuring them. In some cases – Adobe Creative Suite comes to mind – you might need to de-authorize an existing installation first, or be faced with a call to support on reinstallation. Drivers are another issue; you will likely need to visit the vendor web site for your PC and any added devices and download the latest drivers. Overall, not a trivial task.

An in-place upgrade is not optimal. Doing a clean install gives Windows the best chance of running with full performance and stability, without inheriting legacy problems. Still, there is no harm in doing an in-place upgrade now, and a clean install later when you have the time. That way, you get Windows 7 goodness immediately.

Although there has been some fuss about the complexity of Windows 7 upgrades, it is not merited. In a nutshell, you can in-place upgrade from Vista to the equivalent Windows 7 edition or higher. You cannot go backwards, you cannot in-place upgrade XP, and you cannot move between 32-bit and 64-bit editions. Simple.

Here’s how it goes. For an in-place upgrade, you run setup from within the running version of Vista. If you click Check Compatibility Online, you are directed to the beta upgrade advisor. I wouldn’t bother if you’ve got this far; the setup does the same job and does not require a download. So click Install Now.


Of course, you’ve backed up stuff that matters to you, and appreciate that there is some small chance that Windows will be broken beyond repair and never boot again.

The first thing setup does is to check compatibility (see!).


Then it will inform you of any issues. This is what I got:


Apparently Windows 7 does not like Civilization 4, iTunes or Windows Mobile Device Center 6.1. On my x64 box it also objected to SQL Server 2008, Daemon Tools, and an IDE storage controller. You are advised to cancel setup (which you do by closing the window; there is no Cancel button), remove the problem software, and try again.

You can fix the SQL Server 2008 issue by installing SP1. Daemon Tools is a low-level utility and could easily trip-up a Windows upgrade, and has only recently come out in a Windows 7 compatible version, so I removed it. iTunes was not being used so I removed that too. I also uninstalled Windows Mobile Device Center.

How about the storage controller on the x64 box? This one made me nervous, since if Windows cannot find a compatible storage controller, nothing will work. However, I knew that the storage controller which matters was the one for Intel Sata RAID, not IDE, so I ignored it.

Once I had tidied up the system, I re-ran setup. This time, I hit Next. I got the Big Decision dialog box:


I wanted an in-place upgrade, so I chose Upgrade.

The next task is to wait a long time. Go and do something else. While it would be nice if this part went more quickly, it does not bother me that it takes hours; it is a one-off task. In my case, setup transferred nearly 600,000 “files, settings and programs”.

The aftermath

All going well (and it did) the next action is to hit Ctrl-Alt-Del (strange how that ugliness survives the years) and log onto your shiny new Windows 7 OS. There were just a few issues to resolve.

First, the upgrade tinkers with the Start menu, and one of the oddities is that Microsoft Office (version 2007 is installed) in effect disappears from view:


I am not saying it is hard to find. Desktop shortcuts remain, if you have them, and you can always type a search or burrow down into All Programs. Still, this could be jarring for some users. Among my first tasks with Windows 7 is to find the applications I use frequently and pin them to the taskbar (right-click, pin to taskbar).

Second, Internet Explorer 8 opened for the first time with odd dimensions. Easily fixed, though it is annoying that you have to go through Welcome to IE8 wizards that you have seen many times before.


Third, Lego Digital Designer (don’t ask) failed to run. Apparently the upgrade messed up OpenGL, even though setup correctly detected my NVIDIA graphics card. I downloaded the latest from NVIDIA, bumping up the version from to This fixed it. I suspect it was not the driver version as such, more that the NVIDIA install added additional components including OpenGL support.

Fourth, the Movie Maker problem. Your old Movie Maker 6 is removed, and if you try to run Movie Maker, you are invited to download Windows Live Essentials from the Web. The new Live Movie Maker is in beta, and after installation you get a message saying it has expired and offering an update (I imagine this will be fixed by the time of full rollout in October). Eventually it runs, but it is not as good as the old one. Solution: install the Vista one.

Fifth, the upgrade reduces your UAC protection level without asking. My first move is to put it back to the highest level, for reasons explained here.

Sixth, Windows Live Writer is slightly broken under Windows 7. When inserting a picture, the “From Web” option no longer appears; and even if you type in an URL in the file dialog (which used to work), it still tries to upload it. Some incompatibility in the common dialog API, or risky assumptions made by the Live Writer developers?

Overall, these are minor issues – so far, so good. Even Visual Studio 2008 appears to have survived the upgrade.

I need to run Windows 7 for review; but I’d recommend it anyway. It is an excellent upgrade from Vista, even more so from XP.

Upgrade to Windows 7 in Europe: confusing as expected

PC manufacturers are now publicising their upgrade deals for Windows 7. Buy a machine with Vista today, get a free upgrade to Windows 7 later.

Except the software is not an upgrade as such – it’s a replacement. Here are the details from Asus, for example, which note:

The Windows® 7 Upgrade Option Program requires a clean installation of the Windows 7 upgrade media.  All personal data and settings, including documents, pictures, files, programs, music and video, should be backed-up prior to performing the clean installation of Windows 7.  After installation of Windows 7, the end user should then re-install all personal data and restore settings. Visit for important information.

I think (and hope) that the referenced Microsoft site is only a placeholder, since its instructions are far from detailed:

… before installing E editions of Windows 7, make sure to back up your files and settings to an external hard disk, USB Flash Drive, or other media. After the installation, move your files and settings back to your PC and reinstall the programs you want to keep using.

Important: E editions of Windows 7 do not include Internet Explorer. We recommend that you get an Internet browser from Microsoft or another software manufacturer and have it available on a CD/DVD or other media so you can install it after you install Windows 7.

It is not a trivial exercise. There is a Windows Easy Transfer wizard for XP and Vista, and I presume this will be used:

Although this does a reasonable job, there are plenty of gotchas. The most obvious is that it generally cannot transfer applications, only data. It gives the user options concerning which folders to copy, but knowing which are needed may not be easy. It does not cope well if you partition the new computer in a different way. It presumes you have sufficient intermediate storage, which could be a problem if you have many gigabytes of media files to copy and no suitable external drive. You could get into difficulties with badly-behaved applications that store data in Program Files.

There is also a chicken-and-egg problem with reinstalling applications. You are meant to reinstall applications, and then run Easy Transfer, as otherwise installing an application might overwrite the settings you have transferred. On the other hand, if the reinstalled application has a different version than the source application (which is not unlikely if it is downloaded) then transferring settings over the top could mess it up.

Personally I’m wary of the tool. If I have to do this sort of reinstallation, I take a minimalist approach and only transfer documents, plus a few select settings that I understand. Without Easy Transfer though, it is easy to lose things like emails and address books, or browser bookmarks, the lack of which can cause aggravation.

Then there’s the matter of the web browser. Asus doesn’t say whether it is supplying one on its “driver” DVD.

Overall, I’m expecting this to be good business for armies of home PC support people.

Discussion of the reasons for this is here and here.

Moving Vista to a larger hard drive using built-in backup and restore

I was running out of space on drive C, on my Vista 64-bit PC. Luckily hard drives are cheap, so I purchased a 1TB drive and then contemplated how to transfer the system. I have a slightly complex setup, with 3 physical drives installed and four versions of Windows (XP, XP64, Vista 32 and Vista 64) – Vista 64 is the one I use most of the time, but I find the others useful for testing or running otherwise incompatible software. Virtual machines are good for this too, but there is still a place for real installs

Last time I did this, on a laptop, I used an excellent tool called Drive Snapshot. It worked well; but I figured this was a good opportunity to test the backup and restore built into Windows. In effect, I would do a backup, then pretend my drive had failed and restore to a new one. I attached an external USB drive, opened Windows Backup and selected Create a Windows Complete PC Backup and Restore image of your entire computer, which can be used to recover from a hardware failure.

It started badly. As I mentioned, I was running out of space:

The backup failed: not enough disk space to create the volume shadow copy on the storage location.

I had a plan. Windows automatically creates a file called hiberfil.sys, which is roughly the same size as the amount of RAM in the system. Removing hiberfil.sys is easy, and frees up plenty of space. Just open a command prompt with administrator permissions and type:

powercfg.exe –h off

You can guess how to re-enable it later. I retried the backup and it worked. Next, I removed the old hard drive – my insurance policy – and attached the new one.

A little-known fact, which many people discover in bad circumstances: restore is harder than backup. This was no exception. I was expecting to boot from the Vista setup DVD, choose a restore option, and have my system back as it was. I was also hoping that I’d be able to resize the partitions, otherwise I’d be no better off than before, but if necessary that could be tackled later.

It didn’t go well. I booted from the Vista setup DVD, and clicked through several repair options selecting to use Windows Complete PC Restore. I arrived at this dialog (with apologies for the quality; it’s a photo of the screen):

The dialog says: This will delete any existing partitions and reformat all disks to match the layout of the backup. Yes, I had four partitions to restore. Still, this dialog caused me some anxiety. There were other physical disks in the machine, which I had not backed up recently; would Vista also format and re-partition these? I thought probably not; but to be on the safe side I powered down, disconnected the other drives, and started again. I then confidently clicked Finish.

Unfortunately I got this notorious dialog:

There are too few disks on this computer or one or more of the disks is too small. Add or change disks so they match the disks in the backup, and try the restore again.

Do you ever want to argue with your computer? I’d removed a 180GB drive, and replaced it with a 1TB drive, but Vista was insisting that it was too small.

Time to Bing, or should that be Google? I found this discussion, headed discouragingly A Windows Complete PC Restore always fails.

Luckily there were some tips in the thread, though not from Microsoft (a fact that has not gone unnoticed) even though this is an official forum. I rebooted and selected Command Prompt from the System Recovery Options. Then I ran diskpart, a command line tool which makes no pretence to user friendliness. I created four partitions, each bigger than the ones I was restoring. I tried to assign the correct drive letters, but the tool would not let me, advising me to check the system event log for more information. In the recovery environment? Thanks.

I tried again, but it still failed. Then I rebooted, just in case. This time it worked. Why? I’m not sure what was the key. It appears that the restore does not like to see a raw drive; yet as I discovered, it re-partitions it anyway. So I can’t give any definitive solution here, except to say, try fiddling with diskpart.

I went away for a few hours, and when I returned the restore was complete, the PC had restarted, and it was waiting for me to log in.

There was one snag. Rather than using the partitions I had created, the restore made its own, of the same size as on the old drive. Fortunately – and I’m not sure if this was accident or design – the partition I cared about was at the end of the drive, followed by free space. Unfortunately, the Extend Volume option in Disk Management was disabled and greyed out. Unfortunately again, the equivalent option in diskpart also failed. Whatever size I selected, I got The volume size you have selected is too large for the disk. Either select a disk with more free space, or specify a smaller volume. More lies. My drives are set to Basic; I guess that changing them to Dynamic might fix this.

I’m slightly distrustful of Dynamic drives, so I booted into a different version of Windows located on a different drive (I said this could be useful). This time, diskpart was happy to extend the volume. I then also typed extend filesystem. It worked:

Overall, I’m glad that the process worked, but not impressed with the fragility of the restore process and the lack of help with these puzzling error messages. I suppose Microsoft considers this an advanced task undertaken by professionals, who know how to Bing. I don’t see why the emergency restore should not be able to prepare a new hard drive, restore to it, and even offer to resize the partitions in a sensible manner.

I’d be interested to know whether Windows 7 handles this better, but not interested enough to try it.

Fortunately, I’ll never again need to do this. I mean, 750GB free is enough for anyone, right?

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Windows security and the UAC debate: Microsoft misses the point

Poor old Microsoft. When User Account Control was introduced in Windows Vista the crowd said it was too intrusive, broke applications, and not really more secure – partly because of the “OK” twitch reflex users may suffer from. In Windows 7 UAC is toned-down by default, and easy to control via an easy-to-find slider. Now the crowd is saying that Microsoft has gone too far, making Windows 7 less secure than Vista. The catalyst for this new wave of protest was Long Zheng’s observation that with the new default setting a malicious script could actually turn off UAC completely without raising a prompt.

Microsoft’s Jon DeVaan responds with a lengthy piece that somewhat misses the point. Zheng argues that Microsoft should make the UAC setting a special one that would:

force a UAC prompt in Secure Desktop mode whenever UAC is changed, regardless of its current state

DeVaan doesn’t respond directly to this suggestion which seems a minor change that would barely impact usability.

DeVaan also says:

There has been no report of a way for malware to make it onto a PC without consent. All of the feedback so far concerns the behavior of UAC once malware has found its way onto the PC and is running.

It’s an important point; though I wonder how DeVaan has missed the problems with autorun that can pretty much install malware without consent.

I am not one of those journalists whom Zheng lambasts:

This is dedicated to every ignorant “tech journalist” who cried wolf about UAC in Windows Vista.

Rather, I’ve been an advocate for UAC since pre-release days; see for example my post If Microsoft doesn’t use UAC, why should anyone else? which I later discovered upset some folk. One reason is that I see its real intent, best articulated by Mark Russinovitch, who writes:

UAC’s various changes and technologies will result in a major shift in the Windows usage model. With Windows Vista, Windows users can for the first time perform most daily tasks and run most software using standard user rights, and many corporations can now deploy standard user accounts.

and Microsoft’s Crispin Cowan:

Making it possible for everyone to run as Standard User is the real long term security value

In other words, UAC is a transitional tool, which aims to bring Windows closer to the Unix model where users do not normally run with local admin rights and data is cleanly separated from executables.

The real breakthrough will come when Microsoft configures Windows so that by default non-expert home and SME users end up running as standard users. Experts and system admins can make their own decisions.

In the meantime, I don’t see any harm in implementing the change Zheng is asking for, and I’d like to see Microsoft fix the autoplay problem; I believe users now understand that there is a trade-off between security and convenience, though they become irritated when they get the inconvenience without the security.

Update: Microsoft now says it will fix Windows 7 so that the UAC settings are better protected.

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10 steps to a well-behaved Windows application

I wrote a short summary of Microsoft’s latest (I think) guidelines for well-behaved Windows applications.

It is a significant topic. A large part of the thinking behind Vista’s contentious User Account Control (which is being continued in Windows 7) is to push app developers into writing applications that conform more closely to the guidelines, especially in respect of where they write data. If all applications conformed, there would be little need to log on as local administrator, and Windows would be more secure.

Windows 7 beta image gallery

The Guardian has posted a gallery of screenshots I took from the Windows 7 beta.

It includes an actual Device Stage, for the Sansa Clip. I did actually use this to update the firmware, which is not something you can do from the generic device connection dialog. It wasn’t truly seamless though, involving a download and a separate setup application.

I also illustrated the Library feature with three screenshots. The third of these illustrates a wee snag with this feature – documents with the same name, but in different folders, can appear identical in some views.

You can get a similar effect in Vista. If you look in \users\public with hidden items showing, you’ll find a folder called Public Desktop. Items in this folder show on your desktop merged with items in your user desktop. Put an item here with the same name as one in your user desktop, and both appear without any indication that they are different. This is also the reason why desktop.ini appears twice on the desktop if you show hidden files.

I guess it’s something users won’t run into very often (it’s pretty hard to do by accident in Vista); but it would be good if Windows could detect this situation and indicate it in some way. Bad outcomes would be if you deleted one of them thinking it was a duplicate, and lost some data; or sent someone a draft thinking it was the final version.

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Windows 7 beta 1 performance observations

There are various reasons why someone might be impressed with the performance of the Windows 7 beta. One is that the beta is a clean, plain Microsoft install – no anti-virus, no cruft and clutter, no OEM foistware. The only fair comparison is with an equally clean install of Windows XP or Vista on the same hardware.

That can be arduous to arrange, but I was given an opportunity perforce. I installed Windows 7 beta 1 on a laptop using an old hard drive, from which I upgraded last year. I have a second hard drive bay in this laptop, making it particularly suitable for multi-boot. However, in order to install Windows 7 I wanted to boot from CD, which means removing the hard drive bay, so I took out the main internal drive temporarily and replaced it with a spare drive for Windows 7.

Everything went fine until I replaced the old drive. I’m still not sure exactly what went wrong; suspects include the storage controller BIOS possibly detecting the drive as RAID rather than JBOD, or vice versa, or a resume failure. The outcome though was a thoroughly scrambled Vista installation – file corruption and then refusal to boot – that “missing winload.exe” message.

This was going nowhere so I reformatted the drive and did a clean Vista install (with SP1). It struck me that this gave me a good opportunity to run PassMark on the two relatively clean systems (just Office 2007 is installed, on both). Note that you are not meant to publish benchmarks for beta versions of Windows, so treat this as for anecdotal interest only. I am not going to give the exact figures.

The test was not quite fair, since the newer hard drive is faster than the old one, and the graphics driver is a different version. The drive difference probably accounts for why overall Windows 7 result was slightly below that for Vista – the “disk mark” was over 40% worse. Windows 7 was also slightly worse for 2D and 3D graphics, by 5-10%. The result was not all bad for the beta though. The CPU score was around 4.5% better, and the memory score was over 9% better. On the memory allocation tests Windows 7 came out nearly 25% faster.

One final observation: performance is not just about raw speed in tests. I believe some of the most annoying Windows slow-downs are to do with synchronous API calls that time-out before they return, or inefficient Windows utilities. I hate seeing the progress bar that Explorer shows sometimes, when trying to enumerate files in the current directory. If Microsoft simply manages to speed up Explorer and reduce the number of mysterious Windows pauses, users might perceive Windows 7 as faster even if benchmark tests showed otherwise. Some of the changes in Vista since its first release have improved performance by addressing specific defects. Zip extraction and file copying are examples.

Talking of file copying, I can’t resist posting this Vista dialog which I saw when copying a CD image to my new laptop install (note the time remaining). Fortunately for me, it was pessimistic, and the copy completed a few minutes later.

File copy shows 10627 days and 22 hours remaining

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