Vista Challenges#

So I'm writing this blog entry from Phillip, the now Vista Build 5308 computer.

The Glass interface is very addictive - its all those little things that make the computing experience better. The quality of the type face, the simplicity of the default window appearance, it all lends itself to a better computing experience.

You get a real sense that things are different in Vista, although the changes are subtle for the most part.

I think the most interesting experiences so far have been the failures - and really, the only place I think I've had problems is around the video driver.

I realized the problem the first morning after installing Vista (call it the morning after hang over if you must... "what did I DO?"). The screen was blank, which isn't surprising, I'd turned on the blank screen screensaver. So I hit a shift key and things started twitching.

At first I thought the machine was hung. Then the display lit up showing the "machine locked" screen. Which is reasonable, that's how I configured the screen saver.

Then I thought the keyboard was hung, but the NumLock key seemed to work. And the mouse appeared to function fine, but clicking on things did nothing.

The screen went blank again, and when it came back, the accessibility controls were up.

It took me awhile to figure out what was going on - it seemed that the machine would freeze for several seconds, then do every keypress and mouse click that I tried.

And the repeated tapping of Shift and NumLock had triggered the accessibility stuff, which looks really cool in Vista.

Finally I clued in: what was actually happening was that the video drivers were repeatedly dying, and Vista was restarting them over and over again. Hence the constantly blank screens.

So, very slowly, one click at a time, I rebooted the machine. And everything came back to normal.

It wasn't until the next day that I figured out it wasn't the screen saver doing this, but rather Vista's default behaviour of sending the machine to sleep after an hour. Likely the ATI display driver doesn't recover properly from sleep.

So I've disabled sleep mode. Hopefully that will solve that.

Next up, DivX. For some reason, DivX just doesn't work on this machine, not in its own player or in Media Player. I've found blog entries where people said this was no problem, but its a problem for me, and an annoying one at that. Audio works, but video doesn't.

Sunday, March 26, 2006 2:21:46 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00) #    Comments [3]  | 

 

Giving up on Azureus#

Being in the podcasting business means taking BitTorrent seriously.

To make our podcasts more available, Carl and I, along with a bunch of other folks, seed for .NET Rocks, Mondays, Hanselminutes and dnrTV.

All along I've been using Azureus, which has the plug-ins for RSS so that the pwop shows are automagically downloaded.

Azureus is one of the original BitTorrent clients, written in Java, and is a classic example of what happens when really smart people write software. It has every feature imaginable, barely documented and generally unintelligible. Its so bad that Azureus has its own wiki so that people can help each other try to understand it.

Then along comes uTorrent. Its a regular Windows app, and while it doesn't have as many features as Azureus, it has all the ones that matter. And it makes sense, and it works.

So, I've switched. And I'm not alone.

Saturday, March 25, 2006 10:19:57 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00) #    Comments [4]  | 

 

Going Vista!#

So I was looking around my desk the other day at all my shiny machines and thinking "gee, everything is working entirely too well, I should break something!"

Actually, I had, like so many others, set up the February Community Technology Preview of Vista in a Virtual PC on my big workstation. And it worked like a hot damn. But it wasn't as pretty as it ought to be. The great new UI that is one of the big features of Vista won't run under VPC.

And that's when I started looking around my desk. After all, with all these computers, surely ONE of them can be sacrificed to the beta OS gods? Right?

So I took the plunge, burning a DVD of the 64 bit version of Vista Feb CTP and blowing away Phillip, my secondary workstation machine running a 4000+ Opteron, 2GB of RAM on an ASUS A8N-SLI motherboard with that honkin great Sapphire ATI X1900XT video card (because 512MB of RAM in your video card is a special kinda love).

And what can I say? Vista is beautiful.

But there's more to an OS than beauty - can it run the things I need? The first challenge was video drivers, but ATI came to the rescue with a lightweight, easy-to-install 64 bit beta driver, only 38MB!

The next thing I worried about was a bit tougher - Phillip is water cooled, and the only real fan in there is a Vantec 120mm fan connected to an Orbital Matrix LCD controller. This USB device has a bit of software installed on the machine so you can control the display and also vary fan speed based on a temperature sensor. Without this driver working, the fan would not spin, and ultimately, Phillip was doomed.

Amazingly, Orbital Matrix makes 64 bit drivers for their products, and LCDC, the software of choice for making the controller do its thing, fired up with no problems at all.

So now I have a functional Vista machine. Sure its beta, but so far so good! Lots more software to install and test, I'll keep y'all posted on the love.

 

Toys | Vista
Thursday, March 23, 2006 11:25:25 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00) #    Comments [1]  | 

 

A new addition to the family!#

Ah, not that kind of addition. Geez, what, you think I'm crazy?

Its a new computer, of course!

I've been on the look out for a TabletPC for a long time. I've never looked at them as a replacement desktop machine, I have one of those in my Dell XPS laptop. But its barely portable, and the battery life is measured in seconds (3600 of 'em to be precise). On the other hand, it has enough horsepower to grunt through running multiple VPC sessions when the work calls for it.

So since its not a desktop replacement, I think a TabletPC should be all out portable, and that, to me at least, means a slate style. Just the screen, the pen, and thou.

But most of the major manufacturers that make tablets, like Toshiba, don't make a slate. And I'm always skittish around unknown or marginal brands.

Then I got a good look at Motion Computing. TabletPCs are what they're all about. They're a premium product at a premium price, but sometimes, you gotta pay to get what you want.

So I finally broke down and bought the LE1600, with all the goodies on it. And am I ever impressed.

My handwriting is appallingly bad, a product of communicating primarily by typing since grade school. But somehow, that little gizmo can figure out my scratch.

And forget no keyboard - when you need a keyboard, the slate plugs into one, the convertible keyboard not only is a fine keyboard, but also a stand for the machine, and it snaps over the display when you want to travel with it.

The battery life is good with the little battery across the top - about two hours. For real battery life, you add on the extended battery that fits across the back, I've gone six hours using wireless... I can't imagine how long it would last with the antennas shut down.

I'm having a great time using the slate with Visio, using the slate very much like the proverbial cocktail napkin.

So here's the family photo:

The big ol' Dell is on the right, the LE 1600 on the left, and glowing menacingly in the background is the great 4960x1600 display array that is my main workstation.

I plan to carry both laptops with me on major excursions now, so I ordered a Brain Cell insert for my Tom Bihn Brain Bag - the bag actually has room for both machines.

Am I done yet? Nope, I'm on the lookout to replace the Dell. Its three years old now.

What is my perfect maximum horsepower laptop? Glad you asked.

  • 1920x1200 display - an absolute must have. More screen space good.
  • Dual core 64 bit processor - more horsepower good.
  • 4GB RAM - more RAM good.
  • 64 bit OS - gotta take advantage of the horsepower and the RAM.

After all, I do a lot of demos of SQL Server 2005 and beyond. I need to be able to run multiple VPCs fast. And big ones, too. My 64 bit workstation with 4GB of RAM and Windows Virtual Server 2005 64 bit is the best environment possible for running VPCs, and I want as close to that as I can when I'm on the road.

Does such a machine exist? Well, not in the mainstream, but its imminent. Hypersonic PC now makes the Aviator EX7 which has all the key bits, including shipping from the factory with a Windows XP x64. Another thing that interests me about Hypersonic is they offer custom paintwork... hmm, maybe a .NET Rocks Logo laptop? Alienware makes the machine in the m7700i, but not the OS. Hence they play games with offering 3 GB of RAM. Perhaps the Dell buy out has distracted them.

So many toys, so little time...

Wednesday, March 22, 2006 11:14:22 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00) #    Comments [1]  | 

 

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