Vista: the search for drivers begins

I’ve just installed Windows Vista RC2, which makes me either stupid or a diehard Vista testaholic, according to The Register. Or possibly a tech journalist. Whatever, I like it; it’s an improvement on Windows XP in small ways and large. I’d like to migrate to Vista on release, but there’s a snag…

My RC2 machine is running sweetly, but two devices won’t install. One is an Adaptec 2940 PCI SCSI card with a tape drive hanging off it; the other is a Umax Astra 5400 USB scanner. Umax doesn’t seem to have heard of Vista, according to its support site, while Adaptec has a knowledgebase article entitled: “*TEST* Driver Update Patches for Microsoft Vista *Under Construction*” which says,

See (link to be added [sic]) for a list of products that are supported in Microsoft Vista.

Overall, I’m not optimistic about either of these products, though there is I suppose a glimmer of hope in the Adaptec link. It presents an uncomfortable but familiar dilemma: whether to discard working hardware for the same of compatibility, or persevere with the soon-to-be-ancient Windows XP for the sake of supporting old hardware.

I know of a company running Windows 98 on one of its PCs for exactly this reason – it supports a piece of factory equipment, and the supplier wants several thousand pounds for an XP-compatible software upgrade.

The long life of Windows XP has been a benefit in this respect. Almost everything supports it as a de-facto standard.

I can understand why vendors are reluctant to create drivers for old hardware. It ties up their developers for little benefit in revenue; and may even damage sales of the new stuff.

Even so, it’s disappointing that even with Vista likely to be released to manufacturing within the next couple of months, many support sites have little or no information on driver availability. Kudos to those that do. For example, Creative.com has a prominent link to information on Windows Vista and XP64. Unlike Apple’s site, which appears to lack any information about iPod/iTunes Vista support.

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Times Reader memory shock

I’m an admirer of Times Reader; in fact I’ve become something of an addict. Then a discussion about .NET performance prompted me to check the memory usage:

At 92MB working set and 50MB private working set, this application uses an alarming amount of memory. I found this interesting as it’s an example of a real-world Windows Presentation Foundation application. WPF is great to work with, but if it catches on, how many concurrent WPF apps will we be able to run before our shiny Vista systems choke?

Caveats: All three of Vista, WPF and Times Reader are in beta, so things could improve; then again all three are close to release, so this is a real concern. More research is needed.

Of course it’s possible that Times Reader is just holding far too much data in RAM, though it is such a great app in other respects that it is hard to believe.

Other points of interest: as you can see from the screenshot I have Paint.Net running as well as another .NET app, Guidance Explorer, both of which consume less than half the amount of memory. In fact, Paint.Net’s usage is not bad in this context, given its sophistication and the fact that image apps tend to be memory-hungry.

I’ll have another look when the full releases are available.

Update

I investigated how much overhead WPF is introducing by comparing two trivial to-do list apps of identical functionality. One is XAML/VB.NET; the other is Windows Forms. Both compiled to release builds in VS 2005. Here are the results:

XAML/VB.NET

Working set: 30MB
Private working set: 11MB
Commit size: 44.5 MB

Windows Forms

Working set: 13.5MB
Private working set: 3MB
Commit size: 15MB

So on the face of it, there is a substantial memory jump for WPF.

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Who cares about W3C validation?

While reseaching a piece in today’s IT Week, I checked out several prominent home pages in the W3C Markup Validation Service. There wasn’t room for all the results in the piece, so I’m posting them below, best to worst:

  • ibm.com: passed
  • sun.com: 1 error
  • microsoft.com: 2 errors
  • digg.com: 5 errors
  • adobe.com: 15 errors
  • redhat.com: 18 errors
  • yahoo.com: 41 errors
  • google.com: 43 errors
  • bbc.co.uk: 45 errors
  • myspace.com: 130 errors
  • ebay.com: 263 errors
  • amazon.com: 1134 errors

Disclaimer: This was early last week; the exact figures will have changed by now. I found it interesting that only IBM managed a pass, others such as Microsoft and Sun are clearly trying to comply, while the likes of MySpace, eBay and Amazon apparently could not care less.

Does anybody care? Mostly not; all we care about is web sites that work in our favourite browser, though in theory there is a connection between the two. Which was the point of my article: the W3C seems to be of decreasing relevance these days.

Still, kudos to IBM.

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The top ten albums, ever. Period.

Everyone loves lists, apparently. So here goes. By the way, I don’t believe in top ten lists. Subjective, subjective, subjective, plus dependent on which way the wind is blowing. And yes, they are of a certain era. Feel free to ignore this post.

Quadrophenia by The Who
There’s something about going down to Brighton and railing at the sea; I can’t get enough.

Late for the sky by Jackson Browne
I used to play this in the car and cry my eyes out. Still a sad and beautiful work.

Station to Station by David Bowie
Pure paranoid beauty, swirling Slick guitar and electronic noises, from Bowie’s Golden Years.

Blonde on Blonde by Bob Dylan
At the time, everyone said that Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands was no match for Desolation Row; yet I find it intoxicating. Another favourite is Visions of Johanna; and not forgetting Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat.

This Year’s Model by Elvis Costello
My introduction to EC was when John Peel made Less than Zero his big single of the week. A couple of years later I had the privilege of seeing EC and the Attractions in full flow on the This Year’s Model tour: it really was “Pump it up, until you can feel it”. Sublime combination of primal energy and cerebral wit.

Layla by Derek and the Dominoes
It’s the guitar, and the emotion, and the fine songs; the tradition and the moment; sweet and sour; immaculate.

Liege and Lief by Fairport Convention
I’m struggling here, as two of my self-imposed rules for this list are first, no compilations, and second, no more than one for each artist. So I’m looking for a Fairport album with Meet on the Ledge, Who knows where the time goes, and Matty Groves. There are several live albums that would fit; but it’s the early studio albums I go back to most often, so I’m picking Liege and Lief; after all, how could I omit Crazy Man Michael?

The Four Seasons by Vivaldi; Neville Marriner and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields
I gather this is a remarkably non-authentic rendition of Vivaldi’s played-to-death masterpiece; yet it has a certain magic and drama that I rarely find elsewhere.

Hearts and Bones by Paul Simon
According to the All Music Guide that this was a “commercial disaster”; I don’t know why because it’s my favourite of Simon’s works, maybe a bit twee in places, but it resonates with me because I think too much and agree with him about cars.

On the Beach by Neil Young
I started on the beach and that’s where I’ll finish.

Is that it? What a dull list. How conventional. How introspective. Why nothing by John Lennon, or King Crimson, or R.E.M., or Talking Heads, or The Cure, or Tom Waits, or Velvet Underground? Can’t answer that; but perhaps I’ll do another list tomorrow.

 

ELP: bombast or brilliance?

From time to time I get an urge to revisit past musical pleasures. The other day it was Emerson Lake and Palmer, and I dug out Brain Salad Surgery, the eponymous first album, and the sprawling live affair Welcome Back my Friends.

I can’t make up my mind about this band. It seems to be a mood thing; sometimes the interesting rhythms, Keith Emerson’s flowing keyboard and Greg Lake’s delicate vocals fill me with admiration. Other times it sounds over-the-top and adolescent.

I suppose in an absolute sense it is more like the latter. Still, I think you have to concede at least moments of inspiration.

Why I hate compilations

Back when I was at school, we all despised compilations. Thing is, they have no artistic integrity. Artists make albums, record companies make compilations.

It seems we lost the argument. When I search for an artist on Amazon and sort by bestselling, all the top choices seem to be compilations. Despite myself, I buy ’em. It’s got all my favourites on, I reason.

Then I remember why I hate them. It has all my favourites on, but two of them are the live version, and I wanted the studio version. Or vice versa. So then I have to buy the album that had the version I really wanted. And then I have crazy duplication.

I don’t even like it when they stuff extra tracks on the end of a classic album (I don’t mind when it’s a separate CD). The bonuses can be interesting, but they don’t fit. Unless, of course, it was a compilation to begin with.

There’s another reason I hate compilations. Sometimes it’s the only way to get some song that was released as a single, or some such. So you have to buy the compilation, 95% of which you already own, just for that one song.

I realise that this is one good thing about buying downloads. You only buy what you actually want. Well, I’ll cheerfully buy from Robert Fripp’s music download store, where the downloads are DRM-free and uncompressed, but not iTunes or one of the Windows DRM stores where neither of those is true. Actually, there is a Windows DRM store that offers lossless WMA, but the CD is still, usually, a much better deal.

Nevertheless, I realise that the CD is dying and it will be download-only at some future time. I’m pinning my hopes on a sane subscription scheme. In the meantime, did I mention that I hate compilations?

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Mott the Hoople

Way back when, Island Records had a sampler LP called Nice Enough to Eat. There was a song on it called At the Crossroads, written by Doug Sahm and performed by a band called Mott the Hoople. I liked its yearning, dylanesque sound and later picked up the album of the same name. I’ve had a soft spot for the band ever since, even though in an absolute sense they are kinda trashy.

I’m writing this now because of a supermarket find on Saturday – you know, when you see a CD for next to nothing on one of those budget labels and it intrigues you. This one was by Mott and called Essential Young Dudes – Live and more; it was obviously some kind of compilation but the sleeve was silent on details like when or where the songs were recorded. I was curious because I know the band’s output fairly well, but titles like “The Ballad of Billy Joe” and “If your heart lay with the rebel” were new to me.

I stuck it on when I got home and have to admit I enjoyed it. Very English, very seventies; raucous in places, often silly, but full of energy. The songs seem to be from concerts previously released by Angel Air; the sound quality is bootleg-like but with compensating atmosphere. You even get David Bowie singing backing vocals on his song All the Young Dudes – the song which rescued Mott from complete obscurity.

As I was sitting here wondering what I like about the band I came across this remark from George Starostin:

The fact that certain reviewers and critics hold a very soft spot in their heart for the band can only be explained – as far as I believe – by the fact that Ian Hunter’s lyrics speak to them on a personal level: his constant humble saga of a little man stuck in an ambitious rock’n’roll band and always getting his kicks in the wrong way is quite biting on the social plane of things, if you know what I mean.

Good comment. I guess you had to be there.

Fripp’s Exposure: a reissue done right

My copy of the Exposure re-release arrived today. It’s priced like a single CD but the package contains two, one the original 1979 release, and the second a 1983 remix called confusingly “third edition”.

This takes a bit of untangling. Exposure was intended as part three of a “MOR trilogy”, where part one was Daryl Hall’s Sacred Songs and part two Peter Gabriel II. The original pre-release version of Exposure included several vocals by Daryl Hall, but a dispute over the credits resulted in most of these vocals being replaced by Fripp.

So, the first edition is the version as released in 1979 (no Hall vocals). The second edition is a 1983 remix, as released in 1985. The third edition, new to this release, is the remix but with Hall’s vocals restored. I think the idea is that the “third edition” is to some extent Exposure as it was meant to be; at the same time, Fripp is ever the completist; the contentious songs with the Fripp vocals appear as an appendix and Fripp notes that we can reconstruct the second edition or make our own alternate third edition if we want to.

As for the music, I love it. If you heartily dislike Fripp/Eno noodlings you won’t be much taken by this; yet it is relatively accessible and includes some real songs, not least Here Comes the Flood with Peter Gabriel vocals.

Climate change is a theme; hence “Here comes the flood”. This was prophetic in the seventies; Fripp comments in the notes:

My life changed direction in July 1974 following a terrifying vision of the future. Now, three decades later, I find that I underestimated the extent of radical change that presently underway. In 1974 my response was terror. In 2006 I trust the unfolding process.

Intriguing stuff. And finally I get to the point: in the twilight years of the CD, it’s great to see a reissue done right, respectful of the original, interesting extras, and a high-quality booklet with lyrics and new notes and pix. Recommended.

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