Beware the consequences of Vista’s “compatibility modes”

Vista’s compatibility modes are great in many ways. I use them to run old games, and to work around a problem in Eclipse for example. However, they contain a sneaky little “gotcha” that recently caught me out.

I have recently been involved in work with Vista’s implementation of symbolic links. For reasons best known to Microsoft, they chose to use a feature available in XP – reparse points – to implement symbolic links in Vista, yet didn’t release the reparse point drivers for symbolic links as an update to XP. This means that XP can recognise a symbolic link, but can’t do anything with it. As a result, I ended up with different Java Native Interface (JNI) DLLs for basic Windows file functionality and Symbolic link-specific functionality, and only wanted the latter loaded on a Vista (or Server 2008) machine.

Java provides a means of determining the operating system by calling System.getProperty("os.name"). On a Vista machine, it returns “Windows Vista”, and on an XP machine it returns “Windows XP”. Except that for me, it didn’t. I tried various versions of the JDK and JRE, wrote a test program etc and all to no avail, for my Vista box kept reporting it was Windows XP. At a complete loss, I turned to Stackoverflow and asked there. Someone very quickly pointed out what I was doing wrong: I was running Eclipse in XP compatibility mode, which meant any Java program or test suite launched via Eclipse also ran in XP compatibility mode! I ran Eclipse without it and all my Java code dutifully reported it was running on Vista.

The points here may be obvious to many, but they never really occurred to me. If you run a program in compatibility mode, any program it launches in turn, will also run in compatibility mode. And part of the compatibility mode features involves lying to the program about the operating system it’s running on.

Just how difficult can Microsoft make the giving away of a freebie?

Prior to the start of ReMix this year, Microsoft made a big thing of how attendees would get a year’s Microsoft Expression Professional Subscription free (normal price £670). So just how difficult do you think Microsoft can make giving away that freebie? This difficult:

  • Just before the event, they announce that we won’t actually get anything at the event, instead we’ll have to fill out a form and it’ll be posted to us.
  • Day 1 of the event and I ask about the form. “That’ll be available tomorrow sir”. Lucky I’m attending both days then…
  • Day 2 of the event: AM. On arrival, I’m presented with a flimsy piece of paper that I have to fill out with my details. I head upstairs, grab a coffee, find a seat and fill out the form. I then head back down to hand it in. “Oh no sir; the forms cannot be handed in until this afternoon”.
  • Day 2 of the event PM. Head back down after lunch and hand in my now somewhat scrumpled form. How long will it take to send the subscription through? “Up to 28 days sir”. Well clearly Microsoft are just covering themselves. A data entry clerk will be able to process the forms in a few days and I should have the software within a week…
  • One week later: nothing.
  • Two weeks later: nothing.
  • One month later: Wednesday : I get an email with instructions on how to access my subscription online. So I guess I don’t get any DVDs then. I dutifully visit the website, enter the details and get told the details are invalid. I try a few more times. Still invalid.
  • I wait until after lunch, and it still doesn’t work. So I track down a customer help number, phone up and explain the problem. The polite lady on the other end – Annette Schulz – taps away on her system, sounds a little puzzled, but assures me it ought to be sorted that afternoon and that she’ll email me when it is.
  • The next day I hear nothing.
  • Friday: I receive an email from Annette apologising as apparently my subscription hasn’t been put on the system still and so it won’t be fixed until the next week.
  • Monday: nothing. I take a look on the ReMix “back network”. Other folk have complained that their subscriptions haven’t arrived yet or that they too have experienced the same glitch as me. So a week of our year’s subscription has expired and we haven’t been able to use it yet. Perhaps tomorrow…

The classic phrase “cannot organise a piss up in a brewery” comes to mind here. Given the millions of licences and subscriptions Microsoft process, just how difficult can this be? Those Adobe Flash and Flex tools sure do look tempting at this point!

UPDATE: Well it took a further week, but Microsoft did finally manage to fix my subscription (along with those  of many others that attended ReMix, who also had the same problem). Of course that wasn’t the end of the saga. The download links on the Expression site do not work with Firefox. They also do not work with IE tab on Firefox. They also do not work with IE, until you have installed a download application. Oh dear. Oh well, I guess that if one is to mess something up, one might as well make a thorough job of it…

Fly to New York and buy your software; it’s cheaper than buying in Britain

It’s a well know “fact” that US software companies rip off British consumers. But is this “fact” real, or just a self-perpetuating myth? Does the cost of importing software into Britain account for the difference in price?

I have conducted some research, and not only is it fact, the scope of the rip-off is mind-boggling when the license price is high. Continue reading “Fly to New York and buy your software; it’s cheaper than buying in Britain”

Don’t like Windows Vista? Try Windows Mojave instead

Microsoft last week traveled to San Francisco, rounding up Windows XP users who had negative impressions of Vista. The subjects were put on video, asked about their Vista impressions, and then shown a “new” operating system, code-named Mojave. More than 90 percent gave positive feedback on what they saw. Then they were told that “Mojave” was actually Windows Vista. “Oh wow,” said one user, eliciting exactly the exclamation that Microsoft had hoped to garner when it first released the operating system more than 18 months ago.

This sad little story tells us one thing loud and clear: Microsoft need to ditch Vista. Whether the negativity toward Vista is founded or not has become a mute point. The name itself is tainted. Microsoft could spend millions trying to change people’s perceptions, but why bother when the name itself has become the biggest stumbling block. So perhaps Windows 7 should be re-thought. Rather than being some major new version, just spruce up Vista a bit, get rid of the idiotic UAC feature and release the next version of Windows this year.

UPDATE: You can now see the experiment results for yourself at its own flashy (literally! One day Microsoft might use their own Silverlight product for such things, rather than Flash) website.

Grisoft join the “Lets piss everyone off” Brigade

AVG LogoFor many years now, I’ve been a fan of Grisoft. They produce a superb – and free! – anti-virus utility for Windows – AVG – which I has kept my home PCs virus free without fail. Then version 8 appeared…

About a month ago, my installation of AVG prompted me to upgrade to version 8. As is normal with Grisoft, they initally pushed their paid-for version (which I have no qualms with, but which I didn’t want). After a few days, the free version then became available, and so I upgraded. Unfortunately, version 8 has a new feature called LinkScanner and this is where the problems start.

LinkScanner is a highly intrusive utility that integrates itelf into IE and FireFox. Whenever you visit Google pages and perform a search, a spinning icon appears by each entry, that then gets replaced by a red cross or green tick. Moving the mouse pointer anywhere near these icons results in a huge noisy pop-up that bombards the user with not-very-useful information as shown below:

AVG in action

As you may be able to tell, I didn’t like this new feature. So I opened up the AVG control panel and disabled LinkScanner. Unfortunately Grisoft treat the disabling of the feature as a critical error and so the notification icon greys out and a big red exclamation mark appears over it. By this point, I was starting to get annoyed. Treating a deliberate user action as a critical error is just plain stupid. The product basically bites off its own nose to spite me for daring to disable the feature, as it instantly renders itself incapable of notifying me of a real problem!

The final straw came on Friday when an article about AVG on the Register caught my eye. I’d assumed the spinning icons represented requests back to Grisoft’s servers for information on the sites in question. It turns out though that the product instead “silently” visits each site in turn to check it every time. In order to prevent malware sites hiding their evils from AVG, it pretends to be IE6 when requesting the pages. In other words, every time someone visits Google with AVG installed, they screw up that site’s visitor stats. This is just unforgivable behaviour for a product in my view.

So Grisoft join Micorosft (with their search gaff) and Apple (with their malware-style updater) in the ignoble hall of fame for pissing off their users. UPDATE: As Mike Dillamore points out in the comments below (thanks Mike!), Grisoft listened to the criticism of its users. Versions 8.0.1 onwards have made LinkScanner an optional install. So once again AVG returns to being a brilliant anti virus utility.

What was the point of the OOXML battle exactly?

ISO LogoUnless you have been living in a cave for the last year (or have no interest in technology; in which case why are you reading this?), you will no doubt have heard about the battle between Microsoft and “open source advocates” (in reality, Sun & IBM) over getting OOXML ratified by the ISO/IEC. It is a battle that I’ve watched with vague interest, but I’ve not had an opinion either way on whether OOXML should have been ratified.

Today though that changed. ZDNet reported that having got approval for OOXML, Microsoft won’t be doing much with it. It turns out that whilst building support for ODF into Office is an easy task, building OOXML support into it is a very hard task. So support for ODF will arrive early next year with Office 2007 SP2, whereas we will have to wait until the next release of Office for OOXML support. This obviously begs the question, what was the point of OOXML exactly? The whole episode definitely tarnished the reputation of the ISO/IEC, yet it turns out to have been for no real purpose!

Send your name to the moon

NASA is inviting people to send their names to the moon on-board their Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), which is due to launch later this year. Go to this page before June 27th 2008, submit your name and you are done. As an added bonus, kids (and me!) get a lovely certificate to show their name will be carried to the moon on a chip on-board the LRO.

Name to the moon certificate

I have no idea what the point of this is. But I think it’s a bit of fun and thought I’d share it. By the way, do not fill out your name if your are worried about Martians stealing your identity… 😉

Google Acknowledges St George’s Day

On google.co.uk today:

I guess if even Google – an American company – can acknowledge St. George’s Day, we English people ought to too. Anyone any idea what we are supposed to do in celebration? Do we just repeat the beer drinking frolics of St. Patrick’s Day, but without the Guinness; maybe with Real Ale instead?

Answers on a beer token to the usual address please.

Don’t blame Vista; blame OEMs for filling machines with bloatware

I discovered today that my new laptop has arrived at my new job, which I start in a couple of weeks. The machines were ordered with XP on them I think, but which operating system is installed is a moot point. Before the machine is put to use, it’ll be wiped and a clean install of Vista will be put on it. Why? Well much of what will be on the machine will be pointless “bloatware” that OEMs seem hell-bent on filling new computers up with these days. That bloatware then slows the machine down and makes Vista seem such an unpleasant experience.

Ed Bott posted an article on this very topic yesterday. He cites a friend who bought a Sony Vaio and found it so  unusable, he dumped it in a cupboard and bought a Mac instead. When Ed wiped the machine and freshly installed Vista, it turned from a hideously slow machine into a fast, desirable, joy to use bit of kit. So why do these companies insist on turning powerful laptops into horrible-to-use slow monstrosities? Perhaps they all have shares in Apple?