Sunday, 1 February 2009

Windows 7 Beta Applications – Part 1

I have decided to do this in a few parts, not sure quite how many yet, lets see what I get to first. :)

This first blog item will be about the apps which come out of the box with the Windows 7 beta.

Media Player 12 seems to be fairly stable, works quite nicely and the user interface changes aren’t particularly major, it appears to have been simplified somewhat and a separate interface appears when you watch a video.

Library View:

wmplib

VIdeo View:

wmpvid

The few issues that I found are that it likes to eat a lot of CPU from time to time, particularly for a little while after starting but I haven’t discovered the cause of that. The problem with having a 4 core box is you tend not to notice as quick when an app has a thread going wild. :-(

Also, the VIsualisations can sometimes get out of sync between windowed and full screen mode…which is odd.

Apart from that though, it doesn’t appear to have any killer bugs.

Media Centre appears also to be fairly stable and usable, with most features working as expected and as intended. Once my TV tuner drivers were installed (WinTV Nova-T Stick) I set about setting up the TV channels, which worked perfectly. One thing I have noticed is that Media Centre 6.1.7000 saves recorded TV as .wtv (Windows Recorded TV) files, not as .dvr-ms.

The main bug with Media Centre is the mcGlidHost.exe bug which is documented in a lot of places on the internet and which has made a lot of people turn off error reporting in Windows 7 which is unfortunate.

It is down to an exception which occurs in mcGlidHost.exe which is the Windows Media Center In-band Guide Loader. This exception occurs repeatedly and in very quick succession and you can end up with 30 or 40 wermgr.exe processes running, all trying to upload a 100 Megabyte error report. Also, they rapidly begin to fill your hard drive with queued error reports, my folder reached 40GB before I ‘solved’ the problem. Obviously this is unmanageable and causes massive CPU usage and saturates your upload bandwidth.

The obvious solution to this is to disable error reporting, but, this means you are not sending what could be important crash reports to Microsoft to enable them to fix the bugs in Windows 7 before release.

I tried a couple of things. Blocking outgoing internet access to the wermgr.exe process solved the bandwidth issue and because it couldn’t connect to the internet, the processes quit much quicker than before, but it was still filling my C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\WER\ReportQueue folder with hundreds of reports, weighing in at 100 megabytes a piece.

I also tried using Process Explorer to suspend the mcGlidHost.exe before it crashed. This stopped the crash reports being generated, but also killed Media Centre’s scheduled recording for some reason, which was a showstopper.

I actually found my ‘solution’ by accident after installing Visual Studio 2008. When the mcGlidHost.exe process crashed, it automatically attached the Visual Studio debugger (which unfortunately does not work properly in Windows 7, but attaches ok) then I received an error from the debugger saying it couldn’t debug the process (due to the debugger issue).

I then, with Process Explorer, suspended the VSJitDebugger.exe process which had attached itself to the crashing mcGlidHost.exe process. I could then dismiss the error dialog box and everything stayed as it was. mcGlidHost.exe still appears to be working after it’s ‘System.InvalidOperationException’ which causes the crash, as from time to time it’s IO usage and RAM usage goes up.

Apart from that show stopper bug (for some people anyway), it seems to work fine and seems much smoother than the Vista Media Centre.

Internet Explorer 8 is also included and is looking rather good. It works well and except for the few sites that it doesn’t render correctly which have to have compatibility view applied, I have had very few problems with it.

One issue I have noticed is that it crashes after being closed from time to time, but it never affects your current browsing session due to it’s multiprocess architecture.

The other apps which are included in Windows 7 are Paint, with it’s new ribbon interface, which works quite nicely. Then you have Notepad…which is…still good old notepad. You also have Wordpad, which also sports a ribbon interface. Incidentally, I don’t think I have ever used Wordpad on any version of Windows except for opening the occasional file which didn’t align itself correctly in Notepad. You also have Windows DVD maker, which I have not tried. XPS viewer is there also, which does the same as it was before, just it isn’t in IE now. And last, but not least, for geeks and Sys Admins alike, there is Powershell 2.0. :-)



Saturday, 31 January 2009

Java Bug with IE

I recently had an issue on both Vista x64 SP1 and Windows 7 Beta with IE opening tabs very slowly.

This was following an update to Java to 6.0 update 10 (or 6.0 update 11) where whenever I opened a tab or Window or popup or anything in IE, the following command would run:

"C:\PROGRA~2\Java\jre6\bin\ssvagent.exe"  -new

This would use up 100% of one of my cores and the tab/window would not complete loading until it had finished, which sometimes took 10 seconds or so.

I figured out that it was to do with the next generation browser plug-in which launches the java applet as a separate process instead of within the browser process. Sun have included this new plug-in since Java 6 update 10 which would explain the issue.

This proved to be highly irritating, so I set about finding a fix and noticed that there were 2 BHO add-ons registered in IE with ‘ssv’ in the name:

Java(tm) Plug-In 2 SSV Helper

Java(tm) Plug-In SSV Helper

So I figured I would disable them to see if it impacts functionality.

The upshot is that it doesn’t impact functionality at all, the 2nd generation plug-in works just fine without those BHO’s enabled. :)

By the way, I recommend process explorer for troubleshooting these painful hanging issues. It is part of the excellent Sysinternals tools and is written by an expert in the Windows Kernel, Mark Russinovich.

Download it here.


Sunday, 18 January 2009

Windows 7 Beta UI changes

So, if you read the last post, you will see that I now have a fully working Windows 7 system, with fairly little work and only a small amount of swearing required to get it to that stage.

Firstly, regarding the new or changed UI parts of the OS. As everyone knows, the taskbar has been changed substantially, the quick launch bar has been removed and you now pin applications to the taskbar, a bit like, dare I say it, OS X’s dock. At first glance I thought ‘this is shit, I’m really not going to like this’ because it’s a big change for Windows and lets face it, us humans are scared of change and the unknown.

However, I decided to leave it in the default ‘hide labels’ mode, and believe it or not, it works rather nicely and when I have a shitload of programs open, my taskbar doesn’t end up ridiculously full. Hovering over the running program icon gives you a pop up with all of the open Windows like the screenshot below:

taskbar1

As you can see, I have 2 instances of Windows Live Messenger running, logged into 2 different MSN accounts. The first 2 are the hidden WLM main Windows, to show you are signed in. (On Vista these are the icons in the system tray). The 3rd is the main window for the first instance, and the second is a conversation from the first instance also.

See screenshots while I was running IE with 2 instances, 1 with 3 tabs open and the other with 2 tabs open.

iehover

And if I right click on the IE icon:

ierightclick

So, while those UI changes are fairly radical, they are actually very usable and very easy to get used to.

The Notification Area has also been changed substantially with a different method of choosing what you want to be shown. It then hides the rest of the icons in a little box which is accessible by clicking the little up arrow to the right of the Notification Area.

The use of Aero for resizing windows is a major step forwards. If you want a window maximised, move the window to the top of the screen and hold it for a second until you see the outline go right round the screen. Pull it back from the top of the screen it goes back to the size it was, see screenshot (Poor but you can see the outline):

fullscreenaero

If you drag a window to the left edge of the screen it will maximise it to fill that half of the screen, similarly if you drag a window to the edge of the right hand side of the screen it will maximise that to fill the right half of the screen. This makes copying between programs very easy. Also, if you resize the bottom of a window down to the taskbar so it touches the taskbar, it will also do the same at the top so it touches the top of the screen as well. Any movement of the window cancels these out and the window goes back to it’s original size.

The new theme selectors are much better too and the desktop slideshow, although it’s been around for years on KDE, is a welcome addition for Windows 7.

Sorry for the waffling about this new UI, it’s just there is a lot of changes to the way Aero works and the UI in itself, so much so that I haven’t got onto application compatibility yet which I will do in the next post. :-)

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Windows 7 Beta Installation/Configuration

Well, I have been using Windows 7 beta for 2 days now and I'm pretty impressed to say the least. This post is about the installation and setup, including driver issues encountered. I will post again about the UI and Application compatibility.

As a tester of Vista during the beta stage I was expecting the experience to be pretty similar. I was expecting that there would be quite a lot of bugs and Win 7 wouldn’t really be that usable. How wrong could I be……

The specs of my box are pretty good, it’s an Apple Mac Pro with 2 Dual Core Xeon 5150’s, 8GB DDR2 ECC Fully Buffered RAM, an ATI Radeon X1900 and 4 SATA HD’s of varying sizes.

The first issue I had was nothing to do with Windows, it’s due to Apples piss poor EFI/Virtualised BIOS implementation which they used, which doesn’t allow keyboard input during the boot stage. This problem only affects x64 versions of Vista SP1 and Windows 7, because they are the only ones with the capability of EFI boot. So, the first thing I had to do was extract all the files out of the ISO into the [win7source] directory and use the oscdimg.exe command like so:

oscdimg.exe -n -m -bC:\[win7source]\boot\etfsboot.com C:\[win7source] C:\Win7noefix64.iso

For info, the oscdimg.exe binary is part of the Windows Automated Installer Kit which is a 1 GB download, but you can download the oscdimg.exe binary (zipped) here.

This creates a nice new ISO image which will get past the limitations of Crapple’s shoddy programming.

Once that was done I could start the install and I installed it onto a nice new 500GB SATA drive which I bought for the occasion from PC World of all places for the sum of £30. It was an unbranded drive in the store and the Hitachi Deskstars were all £49 or more, so considering what I was going to use it for I bought the cheapest, and it actually turned out to be a Hitachi Deskstar when I opened the box. :-)

Install of Windows 7 went without a hitch, probably took about 20 mins all told.

First boot into it and all good, I joined it to my AD domain, rebooted…then logged in with my AD user account…all worked fine, folder redirection works properly redirecting your folders into the Libraries…which is a nice feature.

I then installed the Boot Camp drivers for Windows Vista x64. The install went perfectly, but the Realtek Audio didn’t work. I downloaded the latest and greatest Realtek HDA zip driver from their website and attempted the install, which failed. I then attempted to install it from the device manager using the Update Driver > Browse function……which worked perfectly. I then had sound.

The other thing is the graphics were a bit glitchy and there was no Catalyst Control centre.

So, I tried the Radeon driver available in Windows update, which fucked up and turned the Aero off. So, I rebooted…no joy. So I decided to install the Vista 8.12 Catalyst Drivers, which also didn’t work. But, when I rolled back the driver in the device manager, the MS supplied one started working again and was interacting with Catalyst Control Centre. At this point it was late, I had work the next day and it was pissing me off because I found a bug with Windows Media centre as well, so I put it to bed for the night.

Next day, after work, I started on the graphic problem again. Having read on the interweb that the Catalyst 8.12 Drivers were shit, even in Vista, I decided to try the 8.11 drivers instead. However, 8.12 would not uninstall in any way. So, I remembered I’d had a similar issue on a box years ago and used the Catalyst uninstaller to blow the shit away and have a nice clean start. So, I ran that and it did the trick.

I installed Catalyst 8.11 for Vista x64, rebooted, and hey presto, graphics were much smoother.

As yet, I have not found a driver that does not work with Windows 7 x64 which works on Vista x64 which means that the Windows Kernel Team need a big shoutout for making it as compatible as possible with Vista.