Annoying Windows Vista Problem Solved

Ever since I installed Vista on KN-1, my home built computer, I have had one extremely annoying problem.  After my computer runs for a while, the toolbar gets all out of whack.  Like this:

mess 2

The buttons get all jumbled up and stop responding.  It is very, very annoying.

The only solution I could come up with was to reboot, which was very disruptive to whatever task I was working on.  The problem was even more irritating because when this happens, the restart button stops responding, and I have to do the control-alt-delete thing just to restart.  This mess has been a major drain on my efficiency and I had even begun to consider trashing my computer and starting over- in a desperate attempt to solve this problem.

Weekends in the Houston language translates to “rains all day.”  So I decided to use my forced indoor time today to see if I could find a solution to this problem.  Of course, I started with the answer machine- Google.  After running down a few wrong trails, I came across this inviting Microsoft Knowledge Base page.  I first tried the work around:

1. Press CTRL+ALT+DEL.
2. Click Task Manager.
3. Click the Processes tab.
4. Click the explorer.exe process.
5. Click End Process, and then click End process.
6. Click the Applications tab.
7. Click New Task.
8. Type explorer in the Open box, and then click OK.

Lo and behold, that fixed the problem.  At least now I wouldn’t have to control-alt-delete and restart every hour or so.

Next I installed the hotfix from that page.  It installed.  I was hopeful.  I rebooted, even though I wasn’t prompted to.

Four hours later, I am still working and my toolbar looks normal.  And the buttons work.

I can’t adequately explain how happy I am to (cross my fingers) have this problem solved.

If this post can help one other person solve this problem, it will be worth it.

Not Slow, But Not Revolutionary Either

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Ed Bott posts a defense of claims that Vista is slow.  He cites another post by Carl Campos, summarizing his 10 weeks with Vista.  I agree that Carl’s post is a good overview of what’s right and what’s wrong with Vista.

I installed Vista on the day it was released and have been running it on 2 desktops and 2 laptops ever since.  Leaving aside my horrible experience with the 64 bit version, my experience has been mostly positive.  The question is whether it has been positive enough to recommend people upgrade from XP.

Here are my thoughts after a couple of months with Vista.

First, User Account Control is still extremely annoying.  I disabled it on all of my computers.  That helps, but disabling it causes problems to pop up elsewhere from time to time, particularly when you try to delete certain files.  The only fix I have found for that is to re-enable User Account Control temporarily, delete the file and then disable it again.

Since I have a Radeon X800 video card, I had to wait for new drivers before I could run certain programs, such as Second Life (where I still have a ton of visitors and no way to monetize them, sort of like most Web 2.0 applications).  Once the updated drivers were released, I was able to log back into my Second Life account and reset my dance pads, so I could give away more Linden Dollars.  Need some Linden Dollars?  Come see me at Sibine 03 (106,33).

The biggest annoyance is that when I bring Windows back up after the screensaver has been active for a few hours, my taskbar looks weird and mouse clicks, including the one to Restart, are non-responsive.  I have to Control-Alt-Delete and then Restart from that screen, where the mouse once again works correctly.  I reconfigured my power options so that neither the monitor nor the computer would be shut down or “put to sleep.”  No help.  I hoped the new video card drivers would fix this, but they didn’t.  Ed, any thoughts?

Vista certainly doesn’t seem any slower than XP.  It may be faster, but if it is, it’s not significant enough that I notice it.  Other than one scary RAID corruption (which may not have been Vista’s fault), Vista has been pretty stable for me- again, other than the annoying mouse/taskbar problem mentioned above.

Like Carl, I’m not crazy about the new Start menu layout.  You can arrange your application the way you want, but it takes some effort.

Search is much better.  Still not as good as X1, but Microsoft is closing the gap.

One of the new features I like the best is the Folder (named after the account- mine is “Kent”) where all of your downloads, documents, contacts, etc. are easily accessible.

Vista is a step forward, for sure.  But unless you are a computer expert or are having problems with XP, I’d probably wait until your next computer to upgrade.

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My Adventures in Vista

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Over the past week or so, I have installed Vista (Ultimate Edition) on three computers, with mostly positive results.

Computer One: The Mothership; RAID 0

First, I did a clean install on my primary computer, which I built myself a couple of years ago.  It has a RAID 0 set, as well as 3 other drives for music and video creation and storage.  I was a little nervous about installing Vista on my existing RAID set.  While I have an 80G partition solely for the OS, I did not want to lose all the music and video files on the two other partitions.  I know from prior experience that you have to load the RAID drivers in order for Windows to see the RAID disk configuration, but since I was dealing with a RAID set that contains a lot of huge, not all the way backed up, music and video files, I was concerned that I might accidentally send my RAID set into the ether, with all of the songs I have written and recorded and all the videos I have made along for the ride.  My worry was for naught, as Vista immediately prompted me to install the RAID drivers from a floppy or CD and as soon as I did, it notified me that it could see and install onto my C drive.  Installation was pretty quick and it wasn’t long before I was running Vista on a clean C partition and able to access my music and video files on the D and E partition.

Vista even stores your XP user data in a backup file on the C drive.  Once I knew that I was up and running, I deleted the old data to save space.

My Vista user experience has been mostly positive, after I disabled the unbelievably annoying User Account Control.  I don’t find Vista to be a revolutionary change from XP, but the more I use it, the more intuitive it seems.  The only problem that persists is that when I bring Windows back up after the screensaver has been active for a few hours, my Taskbar looks weird and mouse clicks, including the one to Restart, are non-responsive.  I have to Control-Alt-Delete and then Restart from that screen, where the mouse once again works correctly.  Annoying, but not the end of the world.

Computer Two: The Backup Server

Next, I did a clean install on a relatively new HP Media Center computer that I bought a few months ago after the power supplies on the Mothership exploded (literally) twice in a three day period.  This computer now serves as a backup server for our home network (for which I use and recommend Fileback PC).  The install worked like a charm and, perhaps because this computer is newer, I have had no problems whatsover, including no Taskbar issues like I described above.

A happy by-product of this upgrade was the extermination of all the bloatware and upsell pitches that HP puts on these otherwise very nice computers.

Computer Three: The X41 Tablet

Having had two pleasant upgrade experiences, I decided to push the envelope a little by doing a clean install on my trusty Thinkpad X41 Tablet.  Since the X41 does not have an internal CD or DVD drive, I had to dig up an external DVD drive.  This computer has a 1.5 GHz Pentium M chip and only 512 MB of RAM- paltry by today’s Vista standards.  Installation took longer, but it worked and so far I see no sluggishness.  Vista did not intall drivers for the thumbprint reader, but the first time I booted up, Vista prompted me to visit the manufacturer’s web site (via a supplied link) and download the new drivers.  That’s a very handy feature that saves a lot of time.

Conclusions:

Microsoft has clearly worked hard to make the installation process easier and faster.  Only time will tell how much better Vista is than XP, but so far I’m pretty impressed.

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Get Your Vista: Public Beta

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Microsoft released a “Customer Preview” of Vista today, which is available to the general public. Previously, Vista has been in private beta testing. According to C|Net, Microsoft is still planning a January release.

Casual users beware, Microsoft warns that the beta version is not yet ready for primetime:

“This is beta code and should not be used in a production environment or on a main machine in the home. Beta 2 is intended for developers, IT professionals and technology experts to continue or begin their testing of Windows Vista. Before you decide to use Beta 2, you should feel comfortable with installing operating systems, updating drivers, and general PC troubleshooting. Some risks of using beta operating systems include hardware and software incompatibility and system instability. If you have concerns about installing this beta software on your computer, we encourage you to obtain the final release version of Windows Vista when it is available in 2007.”

I will probably install the beta on one of my extra computers this weekend. If I do, I’ll post the results and my thoughts.

Vista Versions Made Easy

Ed Bott has a good post and an even better chart that explains the differences in the various versions of the upcoming Windows Vista, the successor to Windows XP.

It’s still going to be a little tough to figure out which one to buy for a home/office power user with a network. At first glance, I suspect I’ll buy the Home Premium for the computer attached to our audio video equipment and Professional for the other computers on the network.

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The Tree is Cooler, but the House is Familiar

Richard Stiennon has an article at ZDNet that shows via some interesting pictures why Windows is less secure than Linux. The theory, which sounds logical to me, is that “in its long evolution, Windows has grown so complicated that it is harder to secure.”

I suspect that is the case. Imagine a house on which you add new rooms and wings every year or so. Eventually, there are so many windows and doors that anyone who tries can find a way in and the original burglar alarm isn’t equipped to handle all the new stuff.

That’s probably a good way to think of the Windows security issues.

That, of course, and the fact that everyone lives in houses, so the crooks know that’s where the goods are kept. If everyone lived in trees, the crooks would focus on trees.

In other words, the fact that most people use Windows means that the virus and spyware writers focus on Windows.

Granted, you could use Linux if you wanted to have a more secure system, but I’ve used Linux and while I appreciate all that it can do, it is simply too hard to configure for the average computer user. Plus, a lot of the software that people are used to doesn’t have a Linux version. The smart choice may be Linux, but clearly the easy choice is Windows. In that race, I generally put my money on easy.

When forced to choose between safe in a tree or vulnerable in a house, most people pick the house. Even if the tree is cooler.

So we patch and firewall and hope, while Microsoft keeps building more rooms.

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Bott vs Cringely and My Lawyer Newsome Story

I have a confession to make.

I’ve never watched much public television. Yes, I like Austin City Limits. And yes, I love PBS’s children’s shows, which my kids used to watch a lot before they learned about Sponge Bob and Scooby-Doo. But other than the mysteries that used to come on on Thursday nights, which I quit watching when that guy who played such an excellent Sherlock Holmes died, I have watched very little public television.

So I’d never heard of Robert X. Cringely until a few months ago. Apparently he’s a tech writer for PBS. While I’m in confession mode, I didn’t even realize there was one PBS. I thought PBS was a name for the various public television stations around the country who produce those great kids shows and other stuff favored by hybrid drivers and vegetarians.

But I digress.

Ed Bott came out swinging yesterday over an article Cringely wrote that touched on computer security.

It seems that Cringely mischaracterized some comments made by Mike Danseglio, program manager for the Security Solutions group at Microsoft, at the InfoSec World conference. World conference. Why not Universe conference? I know, why not Conference that Encompasses all of Time and Space? World conference. World Series. My old neighbor World B. Free. Names are the tattoos of the needle averse crowd.

Without going into a bunch of detail, Cringely quoted Danseglio as saying that the best way for companies and governments to deal with malware and spyware infestations is to put in place automated processes to wipe clean hard drives and reinstall operating systems and applications periodically.

What?

Has this guy ever even been inside a big corporate office? Does he have any idea how hard that would be to implement? It would require first and foremost a way to backup everything on every computer on the network. And here’s a news flash. Many if not most big companies store emails and documents on central servers. What they do not do is back up the hard drives of every local computer regularly, if at all.

You can’t rely on the desktop users to know how not to open an email from a stranger that says “I Love You,” so you certainly can’t expect them to know to or how to back up their hard drives. You also can’t explain to them why all of their locally stored data disappears every couple of weeks or months.

In sum, that is an unworkable solution for many companies.

To make matters worse, but much more interesting, Ed busts on Cringely for mischaracterizing what Danseglio said. Ed says, and based on what I read at the eWeek article I’d have to agree, that Danseglio said only that a hard drive wipe and reinstall is a last resort against a deeply infected machine. He also said that prevention was the best approach. From the eWeek article:

“The easy way to deal with this is to think about prevention. Preventing an infection is far easier than cleaning up,” he said, urging enterprise administrators to block known bad content using firewalls and proxy filtering and to ensure security software regularly scans for infections.

Ed smacks Cringely around pretty good and concludes:

If it says Cringely, you know it’s wrong.

I also didn’t know that Robert X. Cringely wasn’t this cat’s real name until I read Ed’s post. Why, exactly, does a tech writer for PBS need to pull a Marion Morrison and create a stage name? I am highly suspicious of anyone who isn’t a John Wayne-equivalent who uses an alias. A handle, like The Internet Guy, The Sports Guy or whatnot is fine because nobody believes that’s a given name. But using another name is just too Dragnet for me.

Also, I get really hacked when someone introduces themselves to me using their middle initial. “Hello, I’m Harcourt P. Livingston,” usually results in me going half caveman and half Cher by thumping my chest and saying “Kent” a couple of times.

Some people have like five names. I once met a guy who had five names and was the IVth. We didn’t hang out much.

All of this reminds me of something that happened many years ago in my wife’s hometown. We had been to her parents’ church and were standing around talking outside after the service. Some guy walks up to me and puts out his hand (now remember, this was a social setting) and says “Hello, I am Dr. So-and-so.” I shook his hand and said “Pleased to meet you, I’m lawyer Newsome.”

As I knew he would be, he was offended. My point was made.

Names. You have to love ’em.