Archive for the ‘vista’ Category


The Black Screen of Death

December 1, 2009

Vista busy cursor According to the BBC (and doubtless others) Microsoft are investigating a new phenomenon affecting Windows 7 which is being dubbed the “black screen of death”.

Oh ho, methinks! Did I not myself verily encounter a most unwelcome phenomenon with Windows about a month ago which I also chose to describe in those exact terms? Except that it was Vista that was getting stuck at a steadfastly black screen, not Windows 7. I now believe that problem arose because I had a dual-boot arrangement (Vista plus Windows 7) which had not been set up correctly, so that the two OSs did not recognise each other’s presence and therefore felt at liberty to interfere with each other’s file and disk security settings. This had robbed both OSs of permissions to load key system files with the result that Vista’s boot up sequence came to a premature halt with a black screen of death while Windows 7 succumbed to an infinite reboot loop. These problems disappeared completely after I reinstalled Windows 7 from scratch and used NeoSmart Technologies’ EasyBCD to set up the boot options menus correctly for both OSs.

I have no idea whether the black screen of death now being reported has anything at all to do with the problem I had with Vista, but I would not be at all surprised to learn it was connected with some automatic system meddling with file and disk permissions, either in relation to a dual boot setup or otherwise.

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Hasta la vista, Vista!

October 22, 2009

Vista busy cursor Never has the name of this blog been more apposite than on the day that Vista’s replacement, Windows 7, officially ships.

Vista has had a very troubled time, as faithfully documented here from early in its lifetime. It earned itself a bad reputation with its plethora of teething problems, having been let out of Redmond half cooked, and couldn’t shake off that negative perception even long after Microsoft had sorted out the glitches. This gave the likes of Apple an opportunity to expand their market share and cement their “we are the choice of the cool dude” image.

But Microsoft realised all they had to do was complete the Vista cooking process, give it a facelift and a few natty new features, rebadge it and push it out to the market to bury the bad Vista Karma as quickly as they could.

And Windows 7 already seems destined to be a hit, repairing the damage to Microsoft’s fortunes inflicted by Vista. Maybe not quite the euphoria of Windows 95 back in the day, but the nearest thing to it Microsoft has enjoyed since. And there will be a palpable sense of relief.

We already know W7 is a stable, quality platform. Many people have been using it in RC form for months. There is no risk whatever of a repeat of the Vista debacle.

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When sharing is not enough

October 1, 2009

Vista busy cursor I came perilously close to trashing my entire Vista install, including loss of some files.  Most of my key data is backed up but the consequences would still have been painful, particularly thinking of the time needed to get all my software reinstalled and everything configured.

And it would have been for nothing.  All because I was messing around with folder permissions and not being careful enough.

I was getting cheesed off with not being able to get to some of the folders and files on my Vista desktop’s C: drive from the various household laptops, over the domestic twifi.  I had shared the whole of the C: drive but many key folders, eg the desktop, were not accessible.  I found out that this was because sharing is not enough.  There are two hurdles to be overcome for one PC to access another’s files over a LAN or wifi: the folder must both be shared and have sufficiently relaxed file system permissions. So I set about trying to make everything on the C: drive accessible to Everyone, with Full Control.  It sounds dangerous but isn’t really. The whole network is protected by a fully stealthed NAT router.

Well, it shouldn’t have been dangerous but was nearly terminal, although I didn’t know anything was wrong for a while.  That’s because I have Windows 7 RC installed on another local disk (D:) and decided to boot into that for a while to try a few things out.  Only later did I try to boot back into Vista – and failed.  I got as far as the boot up screen with progress bar then all went black.  The mouse cursor was still visible, and moved in response to the mouse, but that was it.

Not realising the cause of the problem, I proceeded to lose a fair bit of time.  Trying many forms of OS repair from the Vista recovery disk, running Spinrite, pulling my hair out.  I was on the point of giving up and reinstalling Vista from scratch (and losing everything on the C: drive) when I had an idea.  I could boot into Windows 7 from the D: drive then try to recover my files from the C: drive (and save them on my external 1TB drive) before embarking on the Vista reinstall.

So I booted up in Windows 7 and found that the Vista boot drive (which appears as D: from within Windows 7) was greyed out.  If I attempted to explore it I would be fobbed off with an “Access Denied” message.  I found, though, that if I opened an administrator command prompt I could still navigate the disk.  I went so far as to start a massive disk copy from within the DOS prompt, intending to save all the files to the external drive.

Luckily, my brain started to work and it all began to make sense.  The admin command prompt could access the drive because the permissions on it allowed admin access, but there was no access for “regular users” so the drive was greyed out in Windows Explorer.  The penny dropped.  In trying to open up user permissions on that drive I had somehow screwed things up and removed some key access rights so that critical files were no longer accessible at boot time.  So if I could resolve that I might be able to boot up in Vista again.

From within Windows 7 I found I could still access the Properties >Security dialog on the drive and (carefully) give Full Control to Everyone, using UAC to elevate my rights to admin level for the purpose.

And of course that did the trick and I was able to get back into Vista with all data intact.  It had been a very, very near miss and entirely down to my own ineptitude.

From which I learn that if you are going to be an idiot, it helps if the fact of your idiocy can be persuaded to dawn on you in a reasonably timely fashion.

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Hasta la vista,

February 4, 2009

Vista busy cursor No, I’m not ditching WordPress, but I have got rid of the pesky domain from my URL.

No longer, this blog is now just

WordPress have found a new way to make money.  They monitor domain names likely to be of interest to their customers and automattically (sic) offer them for purchase when they come available.  Clearly the guy who owned failed to renew. I did make contact with him (Nicky Precht) a while back and tried to get the domain transferred, but it was too difficult to deal with his registrars and I gave up.

Then today a message pops up on my admin page to let me know the domain is there to be had.

WordPress make it so easy to buy the domain through them and link it up to your blog that they will capture a lot of domain registration business.  Clever or what?

Maybe I’m silly for investing in a domain that is in danger of becoming “dated”, what with Vista recovering from its troubled birth and now the advent of Windows 7. But this website has established a brand in its own very modest way, so I’m going to stick with the name.

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2008 and all that

January 1, 2009

Vista busy cursor On 28 December 2007 I published my “Eight for 2008” in response to another blogger’s challenge.  The idea of the aforementioned viral meme was “to list eight things you’d like to see happen in 2008”.

Now that 2008 is over, let’s look back and see how many of my eight came about:

1. A democratic Pakistan

Preferably combined with “Mr.” Pervez Musharraf getting his come-uppance as quickly as possible.

Things are not 100% hunky dory in Pakistan, but democracy has clearly returned and we no longer have Prez Pervez.  That’s 1 out of 1 so far.

2. Global financial meltdown is avoided

I confess to feeling decidedly nervous about how well world financial markets will handle the continuing reverberations sparked off by the sub-prime mortgage debacle in the US. A soft landing can only be achieved if the key institutions follow the right policies. If they get it wrong we could all be in for a very rough ride.

Groan ….   1 out of 2.

3. The Arab world takes a lead by recognising Israel unilaterally

Unlikely, I know, but such a bold move would lead to peace quickly because it would send Hamas and other hard-liners a signal that their campaign to remove Israel in toto no longer had widespread sympathy throughout the arab world. The game would be up for them and a settled peace would quickly follow, including the creation of a Palestinian state.

Well they should have listened to me.  We could well have done with Hamas getting the rug pulled from under them last year.  If that had happened we wouldn’t be seeing what’s happening  in Gaza right now.

It’s not too late, Arab states, disown those Hamas thugs now!  1 out of 3.

4. Either the Blu-ray or HD-DVD camp win the format war.

I don’t mind which, but a winner needs to emerge quickly lest it prove to be a pyrrhic victory and consumers will lose out too.

Blu-ray won, but proceeded to try to milk their hard won monopoly by keeping prices high so market penetration has been very weak.  I think it was a pyrrhic victory.  With increasing broadband speeds, users will be turning to Internet downloads for their HD content.  Still, it’s 2 out of 4.

5. Jesse James snoozie movie misses out at the Oscars

I’m referring to “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”. It’s hard enough to stay awake through the title, never mind the film.

And indeed after missing out at the Baftas and the Golden Globes, it failed to collect an Academy Award. 3 out of 5.

6. Lewis Hamilton is F1 World Champion 2008

A great guy as well as a great racer. The pressure got to him right at the death this year. But he’s still very young. He’ll toughen up.

Boy, did he leave it late! But heck, it was an exciting way to win and who said F1 was boring! 4 out of 6.

7. Jethro Tull revive “A Passion Play” and take it on tour

The world may just about be ready for it now.

Jethro who? Duh …    4 out of 7.

8. Sheffield Wednesday beat Preston on 1st Jan.

That would be a great start to 2008.

They did, although they made extremely heavy weather of it and the football was unspeakable.  Still, it’s 5 out of 8.  Not bad all told.

A bonus 9th might be Microsoft apologising to the entire world for Vista.

That was never going to happen, but I’d take a well-received Windows 7 in 2009 as a good way to make amends.  As I’ve recently observed, Vista these days works just fine and there are reasons to be optimistic that Windows 7 will be a hit.

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Honestly, Vista is fine nowadays … really it is!

October 23, 2008

Vista busy cursor The genesis of this blog was the plethora of troubles I had as a Vista early adopter. There was no wider agenda (I am no Apple fanboy), it was just a catalogue of genuinely unexpected problems from the perspective of a Windows user who had been hoping for great things from Vista.

I rapidly found myself in good company. No shortage of bloggers ready to put the boot into Microsoft’s new OS.

But that was then and this is now. As I have no axe to grind, and Vista is now perfectly fine and trouble free on a day to day basis, I may as well say so, never mind how this blog got started.

I put down the transformation in life with Vista to three things:

(a) beefing up the hardware a bit,

(b) the various Vista updates put out by Microsoft and

(c) what I call the personal learning curve.


The hardware changes were the adding of 4Gb of RAM, to the 1Gb that shipped with the PC, and the introduction of a dedicated graphics card to replace the onboard graphics chip. The latter was up to the job of running Aero Glass, although not gaming, but ate into the limited RAM that came with the computer. The key benefit of the proper graphics card was to free up the whole of the initial 1Gb, and the extra 4Gb made a big difference too. Vista needs RAM to work well, and my biggest gripe is with the Dells and HPs of this world who early on sold Vista PCs that were not really up to the job. They were branded as Vista ready, and technically they were, but not really powerful enough to cope satisfactorily with Vista’s RAM and graphics processing demands. Clearly, they were trying to maximise sales and profits, and coupling a new OS with the lowest possible price/spec would have seemed like the way to go.

Microsoft have suffered from the reaction to PCs which are barely up to the job of running Vista, the OS getting the blame, not the vendors for their avarice. Unlike Apple, Microsoft don’t directly control both software and hardware. But they could and should have seen this coming, and exercised better control over the branding of Vista machines sold by third party vendors.

Vista updates

The various Vista security and performance updates have made a big difference too. Many people still go on about Service Pack 1 as the turning point, but only because they had heard bad things about Vista, had already decided that the release of SP1 would make it all better and did not dip their toe in until then. Anyone who had been living with Vista on a day to day basis from the start would have seen a gradual improvement in behaviour from well before SP1, and the service pack itself would not have brought that much of a step change user experience.

My feeling is that there were still a lot of bugs in Vista, and poorly written components, when it was first released. The code that shipped was only up to the standard of a late Beta, but Microsoft were under pressure to ship because Vista was already running so late. This meant that a lot of code improvements that should ideally have been taken care of before final release were instead put out under the update system as fast as Microsoft could manage it, eventually getting the complete OS up to the standard everyone had hoped for on day one.

Some parts are still maybe not quite there. People talk about bloated kernels and the drawbacks of backwards compatibility, but I think that is quite wrong. I think the problems are in higher levels of the architecture, such as the WIN32 component. For example, I find it amazing that a third party application such as teracopy can do a far quicker and tidier job of copying files around the PC or between different drives than the native Windows copy function.

Learning Curve

Finally, we have the personal learning curve. This includes simple things like sticking with User Account Control until it no longer grates. The longer you have your Vista PC, the less new software you need to keep installing, and UAC intrusions become fewer and fewer. It just stops being that much of a nuisance.

The rest of it is finding alternatives for the software that ran under XP but doesn’t run under Vista. Software vendors behave like PC vendors – they see the launch of a new OS as an opportunity to boost sales. So they don’t offer fixes to make existing versions of their programs Vista compatible. They try to sell you new Vista compatible upgrade versions at added cost. Again, Microsoft get the flak but it is third parties who are to blame.  Over time users find alternatives.

Meantime, the public perception of Vista is badly tarnished … and Apple continue to trade on that in their successful Switch adverts, long after Vista ceased to be the pig it is portrayed as.

Microsoft have tried belatedly to repair the harm, with their Mojave stunt and their own new advertising campaign.  But it’s too late for Vista.  It will go down in technology history as a turkey, regardless.  Microsoft need to learn the lessons of the Vista debacle to be sure they don’t repeat them with Windows 7.  They are big and dominant enough to survive one poorly received OS, but two in a row would not be so clever.

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Windows 7: Like the iPhone but too big to fit in your pocket

May 28, 2008

Vista busy cursor Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer unveiled “snippets” of Microsoft’s new mouseless technology vision which is set to revolutionise the PC.

They were being interviewed at the Wall St Journal D6 Conference and the highlights are here along with a video showing a demo of the new user interface in action. It looks like they have taken Windows and bolted on the Minority Report style touch interface from their Surface project.

It’s not that new. Again adapting someone else’s innovation but trying to “do it better” and leveraging their market muscle. It’s the same as Surface or the iPhone but averaging out the scale to get something PC screen sized.

If they can develop a truly intuitive and usable Windows interface that makes the best of touch technology that would be something to give them credit for, particularly if they can actually get it out the door in less than 5 years.

If they succeed Vista might be seen by history as nothing more than an enabling step. The touch technology is only interesting in conjunction with a proper 3D graphic display.

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