Vista is a version of the Microsoft Windows Operating System that gained little traction and popularity with users. Most users remained on Windows XP until Vista’s predecessor Windows 7 was released.

Posts

Going 64-Bit: A Cautionary Tale

Recently a customer of mine who makes a living testing patient’s hearing and troubleshooting issues with their hearing aides bought a new laptop to take out on call. The laptop he bought was an HP Pavilion TV5, a powerful system with a very reasonable price. Last night I stopped at his office to configure his diagnostic software and devices on the new laptop, and ran into a major issue that was anything but surprising.

The Pavilion TV5 comes with Vista Home Premium 64-bit Edition preinstalled.  Niche industries such as my client’s are often years behind in operating system and platform support, and 64-bit architecture is no exception.  None of my client’s hardware or software were supported by his new system. So what’s a geek to do?

HP will not provide or support a 32-bit operating system for this laptop.  Microsoft will not allow us to exchange the operating system for the 32-bit equivalent.  Best Buy will exchange the laptop but the only replacements they offer running Vista 32-bit are, for lack of a better word, crap.

Did manufacturers jump the gun with the switch to 64-bit?

Update: Apparently this post caused some controversy both here on my blog as well as on my submission over on DZone. In an effort to keep the discussion going, I replied to some reader comments in a separate entry, called Going 64-Bit, Revisited.

Using a Canon MultiPass F50 on Windows Vista

The bad news is Canon no longer supports the Canon MultiPass F50 (and I assume it’s brethren in the MultiPass product line) and has no intentions of making MultiPass drivers for any version of Windows Vista or for the 64-bit version of Windows XP.

The good news is you can still make the printing feature of this multifunction device work with newer versions of Windows by using a simple work-around.

Step 1: Put the MultiPass F50 into “Printer Mode”

The MultiPass has a hidden feature which allows it to run in a printer-only mode which emulates the same feature-set as a Canon InkJet S630 printer.  Don’t give me credit for the discovery: I picked this up from a user named GregD on Internet.com’s WinDriver’s forum.

 To put your MultiPass in Printer Mode, push the following buttons in the order they are listed: Menu / Scan / Copy / Set / Set. The LED display should now say “Printer Mode”. If you later want to scan or fax, I simply reboot the printer (if there is a better way, hopefully someone leave a comment about it). Be sure to do this before you connect the printer to your computer, or Vista will try and fail to install it as a MultiPass.

Step 2 : Connect the printer to your PC

As I mentioned, Canon doesn’t have a MultiPass driver for Vista or for Windows XP 64-bit Edition.  But by using the above key combination your printer will emulate a Canon InkJet S630. If you connect the printer via USB Vista should automatically detect it as an InkJet S630.  If your MultiPass is connected via parallel, you may have to manually add the printer. Be sure to select the Canon InkJet S630 driver when you do!

9 Reasons to Switch from Windows to Linux, Revisited

(Note: the original article I was responding to disappeared from the Internet sometime between 2009 and today.  I’ve updated the link to reference a cached version on archive.org, but there’s no guarantee that will remain active forever.)

After stumbling upon this article listing 9 Reasons to Switch from Windows to Linux, I felt more than a little compelled to respond critically to some of its claims.  That response became a bit long-winded to post as a comment, and so I decided to post a full rebuttal here on my blog.

Comparing Modern Linux to Old Windows

Although I agree with some of the claims in the original article, it seems as though it was written from the perspective of someone who switched to Linux in 1998 and never looked back.

The article was comparing fresh apples to rotten oranges. If one’s goal is to compare Windows and Linux and list the ways in which one outperforms the other, it’s only fair that we compare the versions with the closest release dates.  In other words, it’s unfair to compare the feature set of Windows 98 (released in June of 1998) to that of Ubuntu 9.04, code named Jaunty Jackalope (released in April of 2009).

1. Your Computer is Getting Slower!

First off: my computer isn’t getting slower.  I’ve run Windows XP on dozens of systems for years without a reinstall or even a reboot for months at a time, and unless I installed new software the performance never really changed.

I’ve worked on the sort of computer the author is referring to (I affectionately call them “thrashers“), and it seem to me that the tendancy for a computer to get slower over time has more to do with junk hardware and irresponsible usage patterns than about the operating system.

Think about this logically for just a second: people who use Linux tend to be highly technical individuals who might understand that there could be repercussions to downloading dozens of pieces of software from unknown sources on the Internet. If they use their heads, the sort of behavior that leads to a slow PC never happens.  In addition Linux comes with a large collection of programs and utilities which negates some of that need to constantly download and install programs from the Internet.  Why not list that as one of your reasons to switch?

Admittedly file system fragmentation  is still a problem on Windows that can degrade your performance over time, regardless of how responsibly you use your computer. You should defregment on Windows occassionally to keep things zippy, but Linux’s Ext2, Ext3, and all-new Ext4 filesystems aren’t completely immune to fragmentation, and fragmentation on a modern Windows system using NTFS  isn’t the crippling disease it was on FAT and FAT32-based Windows 98 systems, either.

2. You are fed up with viruses and spyware and you heard Linux does not have any!

Windows is a victim of it’s own popularity. If you were a hacker looking to cause damage to the greatest number of computers or a spyware developer looking to profit off the largest number of possible infections, would you target Windows or Linux? After taking into account the fact that Windows has an 87.9% share of the desktop operating system market, versus a 1.02% share for Linux. It’s a fact that there are fewer viruses written for Linux than Windows, but to say there are no Linux viruses is a fallacy.

This begs the questions: is Linux more secure than Windows? Or is the disparity between the amount of malware on Windows versus Linux simply a function of security through obscurity? This debate has raged for years and lack the energy to rehash it, so read this comprehensive discussion on Windows and Linux Securiyty at The Register instead (spoiler: Windows loses).

In Microsoft’s defense, some of the most sever virus outbreaks have been 100% preventable. The Conficker virus spread through unpatched systems (computers that aren’t installing their OS updates).  Microsoft released a patch to the bad code months before a virus was found lose in the wild that exploited it. In my opinion this is even more anecdotal evidence of the disparity in usage patterns between Windows users versus Linux users. Would users automatically become more responsible and install patches if they switched to Linux? Probably not.

3. Your old printer or scanner don’t work with the latest version of Windows!

A few weeks ago I attended a CPLUG  meeting where for the first time I was able to participate in face-to-face discussions with real Linux power users.  In one of my conversations, I told a CPLUG member that I simply didn’t have much use for Linux because I can do everything I need to do very effectively in Windows. His response that was that I could install Linux on an old 486 and turn it into a router and firewall for my home network. My response was that that would be a waste of my time, since I can already by a powerful home router for $50.00 that consume a heck of a lot less electricity than a full desktop system.

Linux has fantastic support for old hardware, and if supporting your printer from the 1980’s is a priority but supporting your modern Windows software is not, then by all means, look up your device on the official Linux Hardware Compatibility site and go to town, my friend.

In my experience the Linux community has been so focused on support of legacy device compatibility that they neglect the fact that some of the most common off-the-shelf components don’t function on Linux out of the box.

Be warned: when your hardware doesn’t work out of the box with Linux, making the “tweaks” neccessary to get it fixed aren’t as trivial as they often are on Windows. Malfunctioning video drivers sometimes require you to drop to the shell and manually edit configuration files like x11.conf, whereas in Windows you could use Safe Mode to install the right driver or change your display settings in a low resolution mode which should work on any video hardware. Oh, and take a look at the steps neccessary to make one of the popular WPC54G wireless adapters work on Ubuntu Linux.  Real user friendly, huh?

It’s true that Windows Vista doesn’t have very good legacy hardware support, but it’s out-of-box support for modern hardware is impeccable.  There are two simple solutions to the legacy hardware dillema. The first is to upgrade to modern hardware, and at the cost of most home printing and scanning (and other) devices you’d be doing yourself a disservice to disregard this as an option. The second option is to simply skip Vista. Unless you have a specific reason to upgrade from Windows XP, don’t. Microsoft has pledge support for Windows XP through April of 2014. No one is forcing your hand to switch operating systems any time soon, despite what the original article might lead you to believe.

If you do decide to upgrade to Vista (or Windows 7 for that matter), download Microsoft’s Vista Upgrade Advisor. This free utility will check your system, analyze your hardware and software, and tell you what needs upgraded before your computer can run Windows Vista.

4. You have a computer without Windows and don’t want to buy Windows

Despite the annoying grammar and the fact that the author actually had the audacity to link the words “buy Windows” to an Amazon Affiliate link, this is a good point.  If you built a computer yourself or inherited a computer and not an operating system, you may find yourself in this position.  I can’t argue against Linux as a valid option in this scenario.  However if you are buying a new PC and are considering buying it without Windows in order to save money, think twice. Many manufacturers won’t sell you a computer without Windows, or at the very least won’t sell it to you any cheaper.

5. You want to run a Linux application

As the author mentioned himself, some of the best software available on Linux is already available for Windows, so switching operating systems probably isn’t neccesary.  Much of the software I use on a daily basis is open source, and a lot of it was originally built for Linux.  Some examples are PHP, Apache, NetBeans IDE, MySQL, Firefox, Gimp, FileZillaSubversion, and VirtualBox.

Speaking of VirtualBox, even if a Linux application you want to use doesn’t have a Windows-compatible version, you don’t have to give up Windows in order to install Linux and run your program.  Provided your computer has the neccessary power, you can install Linux in a virtual environment and run your program from there.

6. You want to (re)use an old computer.

In my opinion this is where Linux truly shines.  You can install a bare-bones Linux distribution like Damn Small Linux or powerful but non-graphical distribution such as Ubuntu Server on old hardware and use it for a variety of purposes.  I have personally used an old Pentium 3 workstation to host Counter-Strike: Source network game server, and used similar hardware equipped with the SAMBA package to emulate a Microsoft Active Directory domain. Other ideas are lightweight print servers, files servers, and LAMP-based web servers.

7. You had problems with Windows activation.

Admittedly Windows Genuine Advantage got off to a bad start, and like most copy protection schemes, only affected the people who legitimately paid for their software.  However we’re now three years out from WGA’s release, and most of the compatibility issues and reports of “false positives” of pirated software have been resolved. Unless you are philosophically opposed to paying for software, Windows Genuine Advantage doesn’t seem like a logical reason to completely switch your operating system.

8. You do not like the new Vista interface of Windows.

Once again, no one is forcing anyone to switch right now. Unless you buy a new computer preloaded with Windows Vista this isn’t even an issue.  What I’ve found after switching many users from Windows XP to Vista is that users convert over kicking and screaming, but within a few weeks come to appreciate many of the interface changes in Vista.

If fear of change is the issue with switching to Windows Vista, how is switching to a completely different operating system going to help anyone? Most of my customers would freak if they didn’t see the “Blue E” on their desktops that has become synonymous with the Internet.

9. You are curious about Linux.

Once again, there is no reason for a full conversion from Windows to Linux.  Thanks to virtualization technology, operating systems can coexist on the same system. By installing and exploring Linux within a virtual environment, you can decide for yourself wether or not it is worth a permanant switch without making any life or work-altering decisions on your physical system.

It should be noted that I’m no Linux expert, but I do have years of experience with Linux as both a casual user and as an LAMP-platform web developer.  I’ve been using Microsoft Windows since Windows for Workgroups, I co-administer a 350-workstation Windows network,  and I am a Microsoft Certified Windows Vista Technology Specialist (I’m not quite finished with the full MCITP curriculum).

Video: Finding Your Network Settings in Windows Vista

A YouTube member who watched my video about Finding Your Network Settings on Windows XP requested that someone make a similar video for Windows Vista. This video is quick and dirty, but it walks users through each step of finding their network connection settings both through the Windows user interface as well as through the command prompt.

No Media Center on Vista Business Editions?

I wanted to write a positive article about Windows Vista.  I really did. In fact I’m disappointed that this article didn’t turn out that way.

I Kind of Like Vista

For the past five days of my life I’ve been taking part in Windows Vista training courses (5115A and 5116A) working towards my MCITP Microsoft certification. Every day I walk away liking Microsoft’s pariah operating system more and more, thinking that if they had only tried to market Vista’s features rather than compete for the hearts of individuals Steve Jobs-style, it just might have had a chance.

I get back to my hotel room with grandiose plans of using Vista to simplify and organize my life, and maybe even give my computing experience that personal touch that Mac users are so fond of casting in our rank-and-file, robotic Microsoft borg faces. I was going to use Media Center, a fantastic application that centralizes all your videos, pictures, and music into a single, organized interface. As trivial as this sounds, I was excited to see what Media Center could do not just for me, but for the school that I work for as well.

But Media Center Center Doesn’t Come With Vista Business or Enterprise

Umm, what? Microsoft tempts me all day by training me on how to use and secure Media Center on my customer’s machines, only to find out that neither me nor my customers even have this software.

I suppose in Microsoft’s defense I did learn this in my last class when I was forced to memorize the differences between the various versions of Windows Vista. However I can and will give you a strong argument as to why they should provide Media Center with Vista Enterprise Edition.

Public Displays and Kiosks

My first thought for Media Center was to integrate it with my Netflix account on my laptop, which is obviously not a business case for providing me with Media Center. My second thought, however, was to use it to retool an old SmartBoard that has fallen out of use  by sliding it into a large showcase in our lobby and using as a promotional attraction loaded with the hundreds of videos and pictures that our school produces annually.

And a school is certainly not the only environment where such a setup would be useful. What about a business showroom? A photography studio? There are plenty of reasons why a networked, enterprise-grade machine would also need quality media capabilities.

Of course I understand Microsoft’s decision not to include it in Vista Enterprise. If it did, there would be no reason to buy Ultimate Edition, except for that “free download” of Texas Hold’em Poker.  The more Microsoft changes, the more they seem to stay the same.