Newsletter #163 - Aug 18, 2007
Vista's 'Report Card'


As many are getting ready to return to the world of learning and report cards, I'll use this issue to give a mid-term report to Vista.
It's somewhat tongue-in-check, but open and honest from my perspective. Being just one user of zillions, it's certainly not statistically valid, so please don't quote anything in it as an authoritative reference.  
Overall Term Score - B
Everyone knows the question 'which came first, the chicken or the egg?'. I've come to think of an operating system as the chicken, and all the hardware gadgets that need to be pulled together and made to work as the eggs.
The eggs come first, and the chicken's job is to nurture what comes from them, and help the chicks get along in society and grow up to invent new hardware gadgets. The chicks have fun and take credit while the chicken does the work and takes abuse. 
Somehow this group synergy results in society making progress, maybe haphazardly or randomly at times.
The categories and scores are...
Before getting into the commentary behind each, here are...
... a couple note...


I responded to a post a couple weeks ago from Frank Delaney, the Producer of Raw Bytes Computer News for KPBX Spokane Public Radio, a National Public Radio Network Affiliate.


Raw Bytes is the longest running computer show in the NPR Network, broadcasting continuously on air since 1986. This computer commentary, reviewing books, products, and trends, airs as a local cut-in during Morning Edition, NPR’s # 1 show, to an audience of business and professionals.


The KPBX 56000 watt signal broadcasts into 5 Northwestern States and British Columbia, and also is a live Internet broadcast.


Frank is a 30 year veteran of the PC Industry and a former Marketing Executive with Xerox and Univac. He has done several shows about Movie Maker and I'll be working with him in September on another one. I'm looking forward to it. Stay tuned to KPBX.


Silverlight is getting closer to being a great tool for my website. Here's part of a page with an embedded Silverlight player, with one of my Movie Maker 2.1 videos playing in it.
Click the image to open the website page, scroll down to Tip #2, and play with the embedded player controls... very well done.
Here's a thumbnail of the procedure I used to make the Silverlight package and embed it... really easy.
Here's the section of my website page for this sample. The key to embedding the Silverlight package is linking it from an iframe. My website folder structure includes a Silverlight one, with all the packages I've made with the Encoder in separate folders under it. 
The NoAudio folder has the files for this one of Manarola with the audio muted... I could have just pointed to the regular Manarola package, but I prefer not starting unwanted audio when a viewer goes to a website page. That's why I rendered a new silent one.
Calling on Silverlight
I opted to nest the Silverlight player in a table with one row and two columns... the player is in the left column and the annotating text in the right. The borders of the cells are hidden by setting border="0". 
You can embed the player wherever and however you want in any of your html code. I'm an amateur hacker when it comes to html coding, and I maintain my website with Notepad. The coding for a table is old, if not obsolete, but it still works on my XP and Vista systems.
.... back to the main topic...

Setup... A-
XP is the past and present... Vista is the present and future.... I installed Vista Ultimate on one good desktop system and 9 months later I'm still wrestling with issues. Two months ago I bought a $399 Toshiba laptop with Vista Home Basic and haven't experienced a problem with it.
You should have a good reason to upgrade from XP to Vista... and simply because Vista is the latest and greatest operating system isn't a good reason.
If it's time to buy a new computer, you should have a good reason to not get one with Vista.

Appearance... A+
neat and clean... looks and feels good
aeroglass works on my desktop system, but not the whiz bang dynamic slide shows... my video card falls short.
aeroglass doesn't work on my laptop... but it's still good looking and feeling

Startup... A+  
My normal is to startup 4 systems in the morning. The Vista laptop is the last one I turn the switch on, but the first to be ready to go.

Sharing... D-
When I plug a USB external drive in, it's not good at working with it. Sometimes I can coax it by giving it a dozen permissions, but it often withdraws and refuses to work with it.
I just took what's an unusual step for me, turning off a feature meant to help and protect... User Account Control... it might help those with a bunch of teenagers in the house, but I'm the only user of my computers, so I don't need to give myself permissions every time I decide to do something... worse yet, being told too often that I don't have sufficient permission to do something, even though I pay the bills and provide the IT support in my home.

Reading... B
Someone wrote and asked where to get the manual for his new Vista computer. Mine didn't come with one either.
Built-in and online help has advanced over the years, and the Narrator feature has also come a long way. It's actually pleasant to listen to. Open the help files and have Microsoft Anna or the nameless Toshiba male adult (US) with his neat accent read to you.

English... C
Windows is still fishing for what to call things... is it a subdirectory or a folder? is what you're doing with your camcorder 'capturing' or 'importing'?
With Vista coming in so many different languages, I wonder if the terminology has settled out in a non-English language pack.

Arithmetic... C
In the world of digital zeros and ones, counting is a computer's strong suite. But I've run into two cases of my Vista system not doing it right.
My laptop came with 1/2 GB of RAM and I purchased two 1 GB chips to bump it up to 2 GB. Try as I might, I can put either of the new chips in and run at 1 GB total, put either of the new chips in with the original 1/2 GB chip and run at 1-1/2 GB. But putting both 1 GB chips in gives a checksum error message.
The other event I put in this category was, during a game of Spider Solitaire, the system said I didn't have any more moves... but I did and kept playing. It would have been right if it limited it's comment to me going to lose the game.

Updates itself routinely and automatically... C++
I have automatic updating turned on for all my computers. It seems they download in the background and often install as I'm closing down.
Last night, when packing to go to Barnes & Noble, my XP laptop said it needed to install 12 updates, and cautioned me as usual to not turn the system off... just wait. Not knowing how long it needed, I turned to the Vista laptop, which didn't have any updates to do. The only issue I have with all those closing down updates is not having a forecast of how long they'll all take, so I can plan accordingly. A dozen updates could take a few minutes or tens of minutes.
It catches me at Barnes & Noble also... as I close my laptop as the store closes, it's a bit embarrassing to stand there watching my laptop doing updates as the store manager is breathing heavily with her hand on the door to help me out. 
Belarc reports are great to review hardware and software features of a system. Here's part of the report for my Vista laptop, telling me there are no missing Microsoft security hot fixes, which ones are installed, and with a link for each that takes you to the Microsoft website page about the KB article.
... Microsoft provides a new security update on the second Tuesday of each month and publishes a bulletin to announce the update. Occasionally, updates are released more often.
Selecting one of the security related hot fixes (those tagged with a little lock)... KB933566... the Belarc reports show it was installed on my XP laptop and Vista desktop on June 13th, and on my Vista laptop a week later on June 21. Not all computers are updated the same day.
Installed HotFixes

Conduct... D
With two alternating laptops, one XP and the other Vista, I've gotten into the pattern of maintaining my website and other projects on a 120 GB SimpleTech external USB drive that moves back and forth between the two laptops.
All was well when I only used the XP, but two months of easing Vista into the same role turned into an extremely frustrating experience... apparently due to being helped and protected by User Account Control, a new feature in Vista that is turned on by default. I stopped trying to work with it, and turned it off.
Now I can work on the projects on my external drive using either laptop. 

Reliability... B 
Vista scores itself on reliability. It's very reliable as an operating system, and Movie Maker hasn't crashed on the laptop since July 18th.
In June I reviewed 3 audio editing apps, which involved a number of app failures that drove the index down. You can see the steady climb in stability since then. 
The index starts at a perfect 10 when new. I drove it down in June as I crashed apps right and left during my audio editing app reviews. It hit a low of 3.21 on June 28th and climbed all the way back to 9.32
You get to this chart by right clicking My Computer > Manage > Reliability and Performance > Reliability Monitor. In addition to scoring your crashes an other issues, it gives you a nice easy way to see what software installations and removals you've done each day. 

Newsgroups... A
The XP Movie Maker newsgroup has a bit more than 5,000 posts so far this year... add to that 2.600 for the photos newsgroup and 1,800 for the video one... and you have 9,400 XP multimedia-related posts.
For Vista the music_pictures_video newsgroup has 8,300 posts. Post activity in the Vista multimedia newsgroup will soon pass those for XP... newsgroups appear to be the best place to go to for support. 

Posts about XP continue to be much more than those about Vista... time will change it, but for today there is more and better support on the newsgroups. 

Security... A+  
All of the KB Articles tagged as security related are installed...
I'd much rather read about security issues than be personally involved in them... so far so good.
As my McAfee startup subscription has come to an end on the laptop, and I use Norton on all my other computers, I'm either going to switch to Norton or rely on Windows Defender. 

Movie Maker and DVD Maker... B
In its zealousness to trim the fat from XP, some Vista trimming went too far such as the name of the open project being displayed, and the icon under the monitor to quickly take a snapshot of the current frame.
Vista brought back frame by frame previewing, not seen since the days of MM1, and added DVD Maker.
A great feature is the ability to go right from a Movie Maker project to DVD Maker, without needing to render the movie... this feature alone made me change my whole approach to writing my recent article about Vista for MaximumPC.
Much of the needed tech support is about file conversions needed to get files into Movie Maker. GSpot is the tool to use. What little info is provided about codecs in XP has almost fully evaporated in Vista.
Third party codec packs and conversion utilities are rolling out to meet the needs. It's a shame they sometimes introduce more problems than they resolve.

Help... A- 
Remote assistance is great... at least for asking for and getting it from another Vista or XP system.
I haven't initiated a support session yet when providing it from a Vista system to an XP one. 
The help files you have it read must be in the newer formats, as an .hlp file can't be opened, even the .hlp files that came with my operating system instead of the manual.

Conclusion and Closing... and What's Next?
It's an amazingly complex process going from an operating system such as XP to one like Vista. Even more than the technical challenges are the users and people issues.
Years ago I tried to keep abreast of all aspects of computers... hardware, operating systems, and software. Today I can only keep up with a small part of the multimedia area.... but today it's more fun. 
My assessment of Vista is about the parts of it I use.... just a small fraction of its total features. B might be a good score, or not... depends on your perspective.
Next week's issue will probably go out a couple days early, as we get ready for the long holiday weekend.
Have a great week and enjoy your summer fun and video work...