Monthly Archives: September 2007

Vista SP1: Create a recovery disc

Update: This feature has since been removed from the final release of Windows Vista Service Pack 1. It was only available during the beta period and you will not be able to utilize the feature today. If however you’re feeling a little adventurous, you can use a little hack to add in this feature.

Create a recovery discOne of the new administrative tools Windows Vista Service Pack 1 provides is the ability to create a recovery disc. At first, the name might fool you into thinking the type of discs system manufacturers provide to you when you purchase a new computer to restore your computer to a factory state, but this is not that. A more appropriate name would be “Windows repair disc”.

To be blunt, this tool creates merely a slimmed-down Windows installation disc. It takes a normal Windows installation disc image and strips out all the “installation” functionality leaving only the repair tools and common system files.

What a lot of people don’t know (or need to know) is that their Windows Vista DVDs are in fact running Windows PE, an extremely lightweight version of Windows that can be booted from removable media for the purpose of system maintenance. Up until now, creating a Windows PE image was not an easy task. This tool basically simplifies it down to just two clicks.

[flv:createrecovery.flv 508 340]

You can find the tool in the “Start menu” > “All programs” > “Maintenance” > “Create a Recovery Disc”. You will need either a blank CD or DVD along with your original Windows installation disc. It will take approximately 5 minutes to complete.

Recovery disk - Install WindowsRecovery disk - Install Windows fail

If you boot this CD/DVD, it will look identical to your Windows installation disc. You will be asked to choose a language and even present you the “Install now” button. If you do decide to go on, you won’t get very far before an error stops you.

System Recovery Options

To enter the Windows Recovery Environment, click the “Repair your computer” link at the bottom of the welcome screen and select the Windows partition you wish to repair. After this, it will present you with a list of options including startup repair, system restore and command prompt. This is identical to the repair screen you would see in your installation disk. From here, you can even do a literally last-minute backup by sticking in a USB flash drive and copy documents across. Because it runs Windows, most USB drivers are available and it’ll work out of the box.

Because this is not an actual Windows install disk, it only takes up a few hundred MBs to fit on a CD, and you are free to make as many copies as you like and even share it with others. It’ll be even better if you can create a bootable USB version.

Vista file copying showdown: RTM vs SP1 (updated2)

Copying files is the Achilles’ heel of Windows Vista, “calculating time remaining…” the blue screen of death equivalent. If anyone tells you Windows Vista isn’t slow at copying files across the network, then they obviously haven’t downloaded any DVDrips and tried to move it onto another computer. Local file copying has already been improved in the performance & reliability updates. It was anticipated Windows Vista Service Pack 1 would fix the network problem amongst other things.

As announced this week, the first beta build of SP1 (6001.16659) has been released on Microsoft Connect. The initial reaction from most tester has been largely positive noting improvements in file operations such as moving, copying and deleting files. However I haven’t seen anywhere post any benchmarks or evidence to prove it is indeed faster.

I composed this side-by-side video comparison of Windows Vista with and without SP1 copying two sets of files across a wireless network. Both the RTM and SP1 machines were running from the same system configuration on seperate partitions with exactly the same hard disks. Any difference in time should theoretically be the effect of the operating system.

[flv:vistafilecopy.flv 670 463]

Whilst this benchmark is hardly scientific, it is obvious Vista SP1 has fixed the “calculating time remaining” bug. As soon as the dialog box appeared, it immediately began copying the file. The copying progress is also more accurately indicated with updates approximately every second in both the text and progress bar. It took approximately 30 seconds to copy the entire file.

But it wouldn’t be a good story without a twist. Vista RTM may have started slow and appeared slow throughout the file copying operation, it actually only took 3 seconds longer to copy the first file. Unexpectedly the progress bar just zooms to the finish line in the final seconds. Of course in the second test, the problem becomes rather obvious and there is a clear advantage in SP1.

Of course these is only one test are only two tests with a relatively small files so it is hard to judge the difference, but I wonder if our mind is just playing a trick on us. What happens if Windows Vista wasn’t slow at copying files? Maybe file copying was never broken, just the progress bar? No matter what it is, now the progress bar moves and numbers change, and that’s all it matters.

Update: A lot of people have told me since that Virtual PC’s I/O performance may have affected the results. File copying in SP1 may be even faster than it appears in this video which is even more promising.

Update 2: I have since redone the entire test with the feedback received. First, no more Virtual PC. The Vista SP1 install is now running natively in a seperate partition. Secondly, I’ve added a second test copying hundreds of smaller files. The result is again positive with SP1 finishing ahead of RTM by nearly a minute.

Screencast recorded and edited on Camtasia Studio.

DreamScenes RTM dated July 19

Windows Ultimate Extras DreamScenesFirst off, I want to congratulate Barry and the Windows Ultimate team for finally stepping in the right direction after months of stalling and silence. The release of the final version of DreamScenes plus the content pack yesterday might not rejuvenate the Ultimate Extras excitement to its former shine, but progress is progress. I think the saying “better late than never” couldn’t be more true on this occasion.

Whilst yesterday was as good as any, could Microsoft have released DreamScenes sooner? A lot sooner? Say, Thursday July 19, 2007?

I hate to play devil’s advocate all the time but sometimes questions, even stupid ones like this, needs to be asked. Especially when tiny pieces of evidence suggests otherwise.

Whilst 6.0.6000.16504 (vista_rtm(wmbla).070719-1641) might not make a lot of sense, it’s surprising meaningful. One of the neat things about Microsoft software is that every DLL and executable file released is tagged with an abundance of metadata describing what it is. One of those details is a build string. A build string identifies what major and minor revision is the compiled code, who is the owner of the code and when it was compiled.

DreamScene DLL properties

In this case it doesn’t take a genius to figure out the version of DreamScenes.dll that was distributed yesterday was compiled on the 19th of July, 2007. That’s 69 days ago. It means this version of DreamScenes hasn’t been modified since.

DreamScenes digital signature

The digital security certificated signed by Microsoft confirms the file was signed the day after.

I’m no conspiracy theorist, neither do I think this is a conspiracy by any stretch of the imagination, but I do believe this highlights the unnaturally long development cycle of Ultimate Extras and just how slow things are progressing. Taking into account for testing and documentation, 69 days between code compile and release is something of a concern if we are to expect more as promised again by the mighty Barry.

Update: Since no changelog was provided to what actually changed between the beta and final release, the consensus at Channel9 shows the performance still sucks and multi-GPU support is even removed. How’s that for 6 months’ work.

Project Gotham Racing 4 “Skid Art”

Remember the video of a Ferrari crashing (lightly) when filming the new Project Gotham Racing 4 advertisement from a few months back? Well here’s the final version of the ad for PGR4 which features the non-crashing version of the stunt. Notably the company behind the visual effects, Method Studios, also produced the recent jaw-dropping Halo 3 “Believe” videos.

[flv:pgr4frame.flv 634 356]

If anyone’s interested in the “making-of”, a few YouTube videos from bystanders have surfaced showing exactly what happened on the road.

The Ultimate con

Windows Ultimate ExtrasEven if the Windows Ultimate team has fled to the International Date Line, summer is officially over. Normally I wouldn’t care what season it is in the northern hemisphere but today it proves this team is incapable delivering anything and should never be trusted again.

Two months ago, after weeks of pressuring for answers, Microsoft’s Windows Ultimate group director Barry Goffe finally spoke out about the ‘missing’ Windows Vista Ultimate Extras. As implied throughout most marketing materials including the official website and even Window Vista’s own control panel, Ultimate Extras were suppose to be frequent and free premium products and services delivered to the customers who “wanted it all”. And the truth is, customers are getting near to nothing. Although realistically not everyone’s equally upset at the lack of extras, some argue it wasn’t part of their choice to buy Vista Ultimate, which is fine but that doesn’t help the people who did.

In the July update, Barry writes and I quote,

We intend to ship Windows DreamScene and the remaining 20 Language Packs by the end of the summer. We will not ship the last two Extras showcased in January (Windows DreamScene and the remaining 20 Language Packs) until they meet the high quality bar required by our enthusiastic customers—and we believe that we can achieve that bar by the end of this summer.

I seriously have to doubt the competency of whatever group of people is working on this if they can’t even ship 20 language packs in 8 months (after Vista’s January release) let alone the ill-fated DreamScenes which has been suffering an architectural problem preventing it from working on RTL-language systems.

We also intend to deliver additional Extras in the future. In addition to Windows DreamScene and the remaining Language Packs, we plan to ship a collection of additional Windows Ultimate Extras over the next couple years that we are confident will delight our passionate Windows Vista Ultimate customers.

By “years”, Barry means Martian years.

On a related note, Windows Vista Service Pack 1 even tries to hide the Ultimate Extras shame by removing much of the information in the Control Panel applet. This is what you see in the current RTM version about Ultimate Extras .

Windows Ultimate Extras

This is what you see in Service Pack 1.

Windows Ultimate Extras in SP1

Ironically a whole lot of nothing is exactly what you’re getting.