Tags: windows 7

Windows 8, LE1700, Surface and other tablet thoughts

As regular readers will know I'm a long-time Tablet PC user - my most recent purchase however was years back. That was an old Motion LE1700. One of the early ones, with a 1.2Ghz Core Solo processor. I've held off since, as low-resolution screens have dominated the market, and I don't see the point in upgrading to downgrade my screen.

Launched early 2006 it originally shipped with Windows XP Tablet Edition. But I promptly upgraded it to Windows Vista. There were two major improvements it brought, first was the ability of the handwriting recognition engine to learn, the second was pen flicks - probably the single most important innovation for making Tablet PC use faster and easier.

Instead of grabbing the scroll bar, or using the D-pad - which isn't always under your thumb or fingers you could just flick a page up and down, and it would scroll, flicking left and right would move forward and backwards. This worked across Explorer, Internet Explorer heck pretty much everything. You could even set it to use diagonal flicks to do things like copy, paste, delete etc.

Windows 7 brought some performance improvements, but it was clear the Windows and IE teams were no longer interested in focusing on these active-digitiser based tablets, despite me hassling the IE team for years, pen flicks were never fixed in Internet Explorer, they've been broken in three major versions now. Other browsers never properly supported the input panel, and/or pen flicks so were difficult to use compared to Windows Vista and IE7.

Windows 8 continues that tradition - and makes it worse in some regards. You no longer get a hovering input panel when the pen is focused on a field to enter text, you need to manually open the keyboard. Like Windows XP pre-SP2. Nasty. However in the new modern environment you always have a keyboard open up. Sweet. Now if only that worked on the desktop.

Other than the tablet features of Windows retreating - making using Windows 8 on the desktop in many ways like the original Tablet Edition of Windows. Windows 8 actually runs quite well. The new modern-environment largely works OK, bar having to use the scroll bars to scroll around rather than flicking - there's a few performance issues with some of the games but it is quite useable. More so than Windows 7 was in my opinion.

There's a few other issues with Windows 8 - Internet Explorer renders text in a sort of half-assed approach, rather than proper ClearType. I don't think it is using sub-pixel positioning, in the desktop or modern environments. This makes some fonts, especially ones designed for ClearType like Segoe look pretty bad. You might argue that's less important since screens are finally starting to increase in DPI - but tell that to my desktop screens - that aren't, and have maxed out the resolution of DVI/HDMI.

The earlier issues I've mentioned like a pegged-CPU in the earlier builds are now fixed - at least after connecting to Windows Update.

But I'm still at two minds what to do. The plan is to buy an ARM based Surface when they're available in October, as a stop-gap as they're pretty low-resolution and don't have an active-digitiser. Then an x86-64 one when they're available 3 months later. The x86-64 ones have 1920x1080 screens, so will do my fine on the resolution front and they have a pen for the times when I don't want to get the screen grubby.

Do I wanna go back to Windows Vista on the LE1700? Undoubtedly the best old-school Tablet PC OS? Or buy Windows 8 since it'll be dirt cheap and leave that on there.

Hrmmm.

Bing Desktop won't be automatically installed

Ian Bell over at Digital Trends caught my attention when he repeatedly claimed that some users who have Windows Update configured a certain way would get Bing Desktop automatically.

The article in question is a review of Bing Desktop - which is basically an application which places a search box on your desktop, along with the Bing image of the day as your wallpaper. Straight forward enough right, they take some pot shots at it - they're a pretty anti-Microsoft website. The author of the article however accurately stated that it is an "optional" update.

Digital Trends CEO, however commented several times on the article:

It's not optional for everyone. There is an option to have Windows automatically add ALL updates when they are available. Its the first thing Windows asked on a new computer. So some people are getting it installed whether they really want it or not.

The problem I have with this is how Microsoft is pushing it to users. Some people have Windows setup to automatically install ALL updates. Well, this isn't an update, its a new feature and it shouldn't be pushed to consumer desktops through this manner. Shame on Microsoft for getting desperate here.

Oh, and cant wait for some press release to come out next month saying that Bing has grown 2000% in the last month (since this update was pushed).

Nice.

And dead wrong. The guy lacks even the most basic understanding of how Windows Update works. Yet loudly proclaims his misconceptions as fact to further push his bias agenda.

Windows Update breaks updates into three categories.

Important - security fixes.
Recommended - bug fixes, updates to .NET Framework, etc.
Optional - extra things like language packs, Bing Desktop, updates to Zune, Windows Live Essentials and device drivers etc.

There are several settings which control how updates are installed and if they're installed automatically.

Windows Update settings

Microsoft, wisely recommend that important updates are installed automatically. You can also, if you opt-in, tell it to install recommended updates automatically. Considering this is usually for bug fixes in Windows, and to update various optional components of Windows, this is usually a good idea.

There's also the option, again opt-in, for getting updates from Microsoft Update. If checked this allows other Microsoft software like Office, Zune, Windows Live Essentials and Bing Desktop in this case to use/appear on Windows Update to get their own updates seamlessly too or present themselves to end-users.

Under no circumstances are these optional updates ever installed automatically, nor is there any setting which in the slightest implies they are. The FAQ in Help and Support clearly states this:

You can set Windows to automatically install important and recommended updates, or to install important updates only. Important updates provide significant benefits, such as improved security and reliability. Recommended updates can address non-critical problems and help enhance your computing experience. Optional updates are not downloaded or installed automatically. For more information, see Turn automatic updating on or off and Change how Windows installs or notifies you about updates.

Quite clear. No Windows user will wake up one morning and have Bing Desktop sneakily installed on their computer, you need to make at least seven mouse clicks to tell Windows to download it, not counting the clicks required to finish installing it.

So pack it in with the baseless anti-Microsoft rhetoric.

Gaming on a Macintosh, like the PC only worse, much worse*

*Assuming you can find games that even work on a Mac.

The Macintosh gaming scene received a boost earlier this year when Valve announced they were bringing Steam, along with their Source games like Half-Life 2, Team Fortress 2 and Portal over to Mac OS X.

I was expecting to see Adam (the only person I know with a Macintosh) on Steam a lot more, and maybe even playing games with me. Before he'd have to boot into Windows and so it was quite rare we'd ever have a game together. I was thinking great, now I'll see Adam on all the time and we can play some TF2. I was wrong however, I haven't seen him logged in on Steam once. Maybe he just doesn't feel like playing games he played on the PC 5 or 6 years ago.

Or maybe there's another reason. Anandtech recently did some benchmarks. Let's just say, the results aren't good for the Macintosh.

On a 2010 MacBook Pro, Half-Life Episode 2 runs 54% faster under Windows than on OS X. Now that's a fairly low-end system. Let's be honest, it's a laptop. Laptop = weak graphics.

How about on a high-end system? Something like a computer with 2 x 2.93Ghz Quad-Core (eight cores in total) Nehalem Xeon processors, 6GB of RAM and a GeForce GTX 285.

Windows destroys Mac OS X in benchmarks

Windows gets, quite literally over twice the framerate at some resolutions. Ouch. Maybe this explains why I've not seen Adam joining the Gamercast weekly TF2 matches, maybe it just runs too slow.

That's not all that's bad with the Mac OS X versions. The graphics are foggy and have quite obvious texture banding in some locations. So not only is it drastically slower, but it also looks worse.

If you wanna play games don't get a Macintosh.

Distortion and fuzzy noise problems with Audigy 2 ZS on Windows 7

In my on going struggle with Creative and their Soundblaster Audigy 2 ZS I've now come across a new problem that manifested a couple of weeks ago. I'm not entirely sure why it started happening then, maybe it was the heat? Maybe after 7 or 8 years the card is finally starting to die.

Now sometimes after resuming from sleep, any sound has distortion and noise in it. So far I'm restarting the Windows Audio service to get things back to normal.

There's a couple of ways to restart services in Windows Vista or Windows 7. The quickest way is to open an elevated command prompt by pressing Start, typing cmd right-clicking on the cmd program when it shows up, right-click and select 'Run as administrator'. Alternatively to right-clicking and selecting the option you can also hold CTRL+Shift and click instead, both should elevate.

Once its open, type the following, giving a short pause to allow the system to stop the service:

net stop audiosrv
net start audiosrv

The sound should now be back to normal.

You can also restart the service, by typing services.msc into the Start Menu (you won't need to elevate this), alternatively it can be opened via the Services tab in the Task Manager. Then find the Windows Audio services, right-click and select restart.

Windows Live Essentials Wave 4 beta up

It's not yet appearing on all of Microsoft's websites yet, but here's the URL: http://explore.live.com/windows-live-essentials-beta.

Enjoy.

First impressions, setup is much better. Glad I don't have to see that woman grinning into her coffee anymore like with Wave 3!

Update: replaced direct download link with the official webpage.

Workaround for Audigy 2 ZS recording problems on Windows 7 64-bit

Those trying to record on systems with 4GB or more of RAM with an Audigy 2 ZS, possibly X-Fi and other models too, have probably come across the problem with distortion, noise, or choppy sound (like talking through a fan). This affects the microphone, line-in and also 'what u hear', important for capturing audio that is currently being played.

The trouble stems from Creative's drivers not being entirely 64-bit compatible, Creative have no date for any fix to be implemented, and haven't even announced if they're working on any such fix.

As it does require 4GB or more RAM for this problem to show up, it only affects 64-bit systems. For those with similar issues on 32-bit systems, this is not a workaround.

There's a few different options, none of which are particular pleasant. First up, you can pull RAM out of your system, or enable a memory hole feature if your BIOS supports one, enabling the memory hole in the BIOS will cause your RAM to max out at around 3GB.

However there is an easier solution, that doesn't require you to open your case like removing the RAM physically but it does still require a reboot. This involves setting the operating system itself to set the maximum amount of RAM.

Press Start, type in msconfig and press enter.

System Configuration tool

This will launch the System Configuration tool. You'll want to click on the Boot tab, then click on Advanced, and set the maximum memory to a number under 4096. Unfortunately setting it to a figure like 4095 in practice will probably limit you back down to about 3GB as it looks like it disables an entire channel on the RAM.

Then reboot, record what you need to, then when you want your RAM back, just undo the change and reboot again. Not the best workaround but it'll have to do until Creative fox their drivers.

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