Vista, Take Three

Obviously this is going to turn into a whole series of posts. I feel like I should do some really absurd things, like trying to install ancient programs, running old DOS games, that sort of thing, but we’ll see.

I think the hidden folders not showing is a matter of permissions. Shouldn’t be a biggie, though not just anyone would ever have any clue what to do, or that anything was even being hidden from them.

Heck, sharing is easy. I’m now accessing the C drive of the Vista machine from the 2000 machine. But they haven’t changed anything, as far as setting NT-style permissions. It defaults to read-only, accessible to anyone, up to ten simultaneous connections. No wizard. No putting it in simple terms. I set permissions requiring connecting as me, full control, and removed the “everyone” permission from the list. What I might expect is for them to offer sharing to current user only, with an explanation saying when you connect from another machine on your network, you would have to put in your name and password. Then the checkboxes for full control, etc. and a warning about that. At the same time, a part of me likes that everything hasn’t yet been oversimplified and wizarded to the point where, for me, it’s harder or more confusing.

I did note that the default share of the drive isn’t accessible, even with a password, as might be the case in some Windows versions. Basically the hard drives are shared hidden (with a $ after the share name) for network admin purposes, and most people would never know the difference.

What inspired this post is my examining the profile folder from the 2000 machine. Sure enough, from here I can see all the hidden files and folders. There are eleven visible and eighteen hidden, including folders named (listing for my own future reference):
Application Data
Local Settings
My Documents
Start Menu

The files are all ntuser.dat, ntuser log, and ntuser.ini files. What, you doubted that Vista, XP and 2000 were all heirs of and ultimately based off of NT? Doubt no more.

The “My Documents” folder is now simply named “Documents,” and is one of the visible ones under the profile. Thus the hidden “My Documents” intrigues me, no doubt being there for backward compatibility and redirecting to the Documents folder.

SendTo is one of my favorites. Any program shortcut you put in SendTo (which is kind of hard if it’s completely inaccessible, but then I didn’t check yet whether there is still a send to option on the context menus in Vista) appears in right-click menus in Windows where appropriate. You can right-click a text file, say, and choose send to and select Notepad… if you have copied the shortcut for Notepad into the SendTo folder for that user. I modify any copy of Windows I work on to any significant degree to make Notepad available. Using SendTo also fails to leave a telltale entry under…

Recent is a folder the system uses to put shortcuts to files you have opened, and that is what displays, at least in part, under “documents” on the Start menu, making it easy to go back to something you opened recently. It’s great for apps that don’t have an MRU (most recently used) menu the way, say, Word does. It can also save you if you want but can’t remember a document you opened recently but not recently enough to appear in the default four Word tracks.

Anyway, I think that covers it, and I need to go now. Undoubtedly there will be more later! I think it’s Deb’s turn to post…

Tricksy Vista

I played with Vista further, after writing about it yesterday. Got the machine on our router. Making it see the network and the internet was sooooo hard. It meant – ohmygod – plugging in a cable.

Well, then to see the share on my old computer, I had to adjust the built in protection, which is pretty slick. It gives you a choice of turning on network visibility and file sharing (or however it called the pair of things) “private” to the local network, or openly to any public network. I chose the former, and love that they made the distinction. Still, not a big deal, and the internet simply worked.

I tested Windows Mail, which is the new name of Outlook Express. I setup my main account I use as the default, modified the account to leave on server, and downloaded the 1800-odd e-mails that were accumulated there. It pops up things to tell you about suspected phishing e-mails, and it highlights those, even when it leaves them in the inbox. Suspected spams, defaulting to “low” for screening, go into a junk folder. There were a lot of false positives, if not that many when some 600-odd were junked overall. The disturbing thing is that apparently anything from me at that very account or domain is considered spam. Ditto for Deb’s address at that domain. You can tell it “not junk.” I’d hope you can do so on the right-click, but the mouse is broken so I had to use the menu. You can’t multi-select and unjunk things, only one by one, which is mildly annoying.

In the inbox, unless it’s on the broken right-click, there is no easy way to tell it a false negative is junk. It’s basically the same old blocked senders scheme tying into that, so I just deleted them. It doesn’t identify the newfangled spams that use PDF attachments, but then most filters don’t.

Overall, it did a good job.

Last night I tried copying way too many files from this to the new computer, pulling them via the new one. It seemed failry slow, and got steadily slower, so I wasn’t surprised this morning to see that one of the fixes out for Vista involves slowness of file transfer that has apparently driven anyone who would notice crazy. I ended up canceling that so I could shut down the machines as thunderstorms were predicted.

This morning I tried copying my Outlook Express data stores, all 3.41 GB of them, to the new machine to import into Windows Mail.

In the process, I found or was reminded of an interesting new feature. I’d set Explorer’s folder options to show everything. If you go to the profile folder, named jay in this case, under it are a set of folders, some of which are hidden. One is called “application data” and has a lot of settings and data files associated with your programs. Another is called “local settings,” and contains folders named temp, temporary internet files, history, and another “application data” folder. In Windows 9x, application data was either directly under the windows folder, or if you had profiles, was under the relevant profile in the profiles folder under windows. Same thing, basically, except for being only one app data per user.

Windows Explorer in Vista using a bar with cookie crumbs at the top, which I love. You can click back to a prior level easily. I was weirded out that there was no address bar, showing the equivalent the old way, like:
c:\documents and settings\jay

Ah, but if you click past the end, it renders it editable and in that format, and you can manually add to it, press enter and there you are. So in the profile folder, where you can’t see the application data folder, you tack on application data manually and it takes you there.

There’s just no apparent way to unhide those hidden folders. And since this was looking across the network at my old machine, I know it’s going strictly by the standard “hidden” attribute, not something new to Vista. Telling the folder options to let you view hidden and system folders makes no difference.

Anyway, I was able to navigate to “local settings” that way, and under that the “application data” folder was again hidden, so same thing again. Buried under there is where the Outlook Express data files are. I copied that folder.

Once it was done, I used what appears to be a slick import feature in Windows Mail. I told it the mail I was importing was Outlook Express 6 format. It was unable to import it. At first I thought maybe I had version 5, but it turns out that my e-mail is indeed version 6, so the import refused to work for no reason at all. Not good. It might be there’s an interim way around it, if I want to insist, but we’ll see. That’s not encouraging in part because it makes me feel less secure about anything importing the old e-mail, so what would be the point of backing it up?

On another note, I haven’t tried downloading Firefox or anything yet, but I love Internet Explorer 7 so far. It’s as if they copied and improved in Firefox, at least as of the versions I’ve used. It’s probably the hardware, but web pages load dramatically faster than I am used to seeing. It was super easy to tell IE7 to load in a new tab in the same window any link targeted to open in a new window, which is one of my long ago customizations to Firefox.

I’m still itching about that hidden folder issue. I figure buried under administrative tools or something there has to be a way to change the protective behavior…


I swapped the SATA drive into the new computer, changed the jumper on the DVD-RW drive back to master and plugged both it and the plain DVD drive in on the IDE cable, fired it up, and with minimal fuss was installing Windows Vista from the DVD drive.

That went smoothly enough. The hardest part was reading the CD key without a magnifying glass, or the eye exam and new glasses I won’t be able to afford for the proverbial foreseeable future. I say proverbial because foreseeable future is one of those common expressions we use that I saw someone rip apart one time, so I have never looked at it the same or used it as comfortably since. Deb helped with that. I must remember to buy a magnifying glass. I need it on almost a daily basis, or so it seems.

For the past hour or so I’ve been exploring. Which was made more interesting by the fact that the one mouse I have here that is USB has a dead right button, thanks Valerie, so I can’t right-click. seeing what’s on the context menus, and getting to settings and such via them, is my preferred way. Which was why I fairly quickly swapped to another mouse on this computer after that one became crippled. How soon we forget. I should have remembered and ordered a USB mouse or two along with the two USB keyboards, but for some reason I was convinced I had viable ones. Multiple.

It’s pretty.

They’ve “fixed” elements of the interface as compared to XP enough that I may decide I don’t have to switch to the classic Start menu, use classic folders, and whatever. Except I already had to switch Control Panel to classic view, though even that was almost viable.

I killed the sidebar, though I could see using it with selected widgets, ultimately.

I have the computer off the grid, so to speak, and it’s amazing it hasn’t pestered me to activate Windows. At all. I have no doubt it will remind me later, but it’s remarkable in its lack of nagging. I’ll try networking it at some point, which will mean it being online and all.

They’ve changed where user profiles go.

It took me a long time to figure out how to do the flip through windows sideways thing that wow people with as the reason to switch. Cool trick, but not useful. At all. Just a trick. The previews in the normal alt-tab bar are just as useful.

I haven’t run into the virtual men in black, demanding my approval for me to do something dangerous, all that many times, and it’s been about where I’d expect. Far from annoying enough to turn off, yet. For instance, when I ran regedit I was prompted. I gave the registry a pretty good once over. It’s basically the same registry, with no differences you wouldn’t expect.

Instead of the old + and – indicators for expanding and retracting, there are triangles and angled triangles. Cuz I am sure all the people I’ve had to explain the totally obvious plus and minus interface to over the years will understand the triangles sooooo much better without having it, you know, explained. A time or few.

There’s a lot of cool, smooth graphical tricks and transitions that might not be useful but they sure are purty.

I poked around at a command prompt for a while and probably the most interesting thing I found is that some folders that used to show up for dir/ah because they are hidden will no longer show, as if they have an attribute above and beyond mere hidden. Which is certainly possible.

I was surprised at how much stuff was under the temp folder, which lives in the same spot as ever. Because I am weird, I confirmed that using the SET command in DOS, which shows all such environment variables.

There are some odd new folders under system32, if I am not mistaken, but just for giggles I checked and found HOSTS was in the same place.

I need to do tons more investigating, try messing with it, stuff like creating other users, get it on the network and see if that goes smoothly, get it online, copy files to it, install some stuff, that sort of thing. I explored control panel, particularly administrative tools, a fair amount, brought up task manager, and so forth.

The biggest problem I have is with where to put the machine so I can actually use it. I’d like to take part of my actual work and stuff to it just to give it a good shaledown. We have a rough plan for rearranging the office, but that requires moving some furniture from the office to here and around the apartment. Ugh.

Right now I need to make supper. I’ve probably forgotten something of interest about my preliminary Vista experience. Besides that 3D Pipes, my favorite screensaver, is gone, but one called Bubbles is kind of cool. I was thinking about making something along the lines of chicken and gravy, with green beans on the side if the ones we have left are still good. Then I imagined concocting something like a sesame ginger green bean dish, sort of coated with a light sauce and toasted sesame seeds. Then I thought, well, one could do that with chicken and beans mixed together.

But I’m not sure. Depends on the condition of the beans and how adventurous I feel. Tomorrow is going to be, of necessity, shopping day, because we’re outta too much. Last night was fried chicken. Night before was spaghetti with red sauce and hamburger. Night before was fried chicken, which came out so good that’s why I tried it again, but it was rough on the olive oil supply. Before that was chicken broccoli alfredo. Chicken chicken chicken. The only reason there was relief for the spaghetti was I picked up a pack of hamburger during a limited-cash diaper run.

Okay, to the kitchen!

Amiga History

Over at Ars Technica they are working on a superb history of the Amiga. Sadly, I never had the pleasure of using one, but I have heard nothing but raves about them over the years, and I know there are many still in use and software still being written or adapted for them.

Check out part 1. Naturally it’s fairly long, and it’s only the first part.

I gather that typical non-technical tech company management was a big factor.

Ubiquitous Computing Here We Come

I have long imagined a future with ubiquitous computing, such that any surface might be a video screen or be interactive, and might even change from video screen to an apparent traditional surface when not in use.

That requires a few things. One is amazing screen technology, which we’re working toward with thin LCD everywhere, and improvements in the direction of electronic paper. Another is extreme miniaturization, crossing into active nanotech. When things the size of ever-shrinking cell phones pack the power formerly found in desktop computers, we’re getting there. Finally, good wireless communication and integration between elements that might make up such ubiquitous computing or hardware interacting with same. That, too, is getting there, if not there already, including in the miniature, passive form of RFID.

My vision of the future was brought back to mind by Microsoft’s new Surface technology. I haven’t read the entire article, but the brief video is compelling and well worth watching. (Article noted via Glenn Reynolds.)

There are two drawbacks. One is all of this has to be kid-proof. You should see what the squirts do to our plain old coffee table, and what they can do to a computer given the chance. The other is that ubiquitousness meets inelasticity if you expect or create it to be excessively built in, say as part of construction materials.

Other than that, well… bring it on! Especially if I can use it to better control the housekeeping robot. Oh wait…

Hard Drive Quality

I’m curious whether anyone else has opinions or a body of experience indicating the quality over time of different hard drive brands.

I’ve had the worst experience with Seagates dying or becoming unusable. In fairness, a large part of the sample size was a case of 4.3 GB drives used for upgrading some Dell Pentiums for a client. Perhaps there was a particularly bad manufacturing run and in general they are fine. Still, I have seen other Seagates bite the dust, with no relation to the main group. As a result, I try to avoid Seagates.

Once upon a time, Western Digital had such a stellar reputation that I would pay a premium to buy WD rather than a different brand. We’re talking back in the days that culminated with my purchase of a 540 MB drive for the amazing price of just over $400. Eventually, though, I started to see Western Digitals fail. Not as freely as Seagates, but seemingly with increasing frequency. Renee’s computer has a WD drive that is on the verge of dying, which is what brought the topic to mind. These days I buy WD if I have no other option, but I try to make sure I buy…

Maxtor. I don’t believe I have ever seen a Maxtor fail, and I have nearly as many of them as I have Western Digitals. If any have died on me, it was so few as to not have impinged on my quality suspicion radar.

So I am quite sad that my parts supplier does not appear to be carrying Maxtor drives. That is enough to have me thinking about checking alternative sources.

Other brands? I had an early 7200x hard drive by IBM. Small sample size, so I don’t think I’d make much of it. It was always loud, like a jet taking off. Eventually it failed such that it would work, but only as a slave. Then later it failed completely.

I’ve encountered some Samsung drives, and so far, so good. In one case, overlay software was needed, and I found out that Samsung was, at least at the time, effectively Western Digital hardware under a different brand. The Western Digital overlay utility was what had to be used to make a Samsung drive above the supported size work. That drive is still going. A couple of 60 GB Samsung drives I bought last year are fine so far, but that’s not very long.

I miss my Maxtors. I’ll have to do something about that, or hope for the best from the current crop of Western Digitals.

Comment moderation is on to control spam, but I’d be interested in any other thoughts and experiences with drive brand quality and failure rates. I’ll approve legitimate comments as quickly as I am able.

Pop Goes The PC

I have four old computer carcasses that ended up stacked in the office because they were “dead” for some reason or another. This almost always means the power supply died, and may or may not have taken out something else with it.

My objective is to build at least one working computer out of the mess.

It’s been so long for all but the most recent, I forgot entirely what the story was, and two of them appear completely intact; no missing parts. I just plugged in the first of those. It started to fire up, had me thinking “maybe there was nothing actually wrong with this one…”, and then blew out the power supply with a bang and a puff of smoke. One of the most impressive displays of power supply failure I have ever witnessed.

Guess it really did belong in the dead computer pile. Now what will happen if I put in a new power supply? If I am lucky, nothing fried besides that. The computer may have ended up her simply because it kept refusing to turn on or something.

What is it with power supplies anyway? Really! There are dozens of ancient computers around here; P60, P100, P200… all with their original power supplies, still functional.

Every machine from P2 450 boxes to P3 800 boxes has had the power supply go at least once. Some also lost the replacement after a while. While most of the cases were of a particular brand, they varied. The brands of power supply used in them varied. The failures happened in many locations, so it’s not just the power in one building being prone to surges killing them.

Worse, I have even had to replace one in a newer machine, a P4 built by me, in a quality case with a good power supply. It’s as if the people who make the components that are used in power supplies have serious quality problems.

Time for a Switch

I have long said the same thing. Granted, on most computers now there is a switch directly on the power supply, at the back of the machine. But sometimes there isn’t, and there was a window of time when the funky switches that are controlled through the motherboard had started, but power supplies with switches were rare or didn’t exist.

Still, there are ways around it, and holding the switch in really will usually result in a shutdown and off.

These days there is always a trickle of power to the motherboard so long as power is plugged into the power supply and the power supply is connected to the board. Thus the green LED that is common on the motherboard, lit even when the machine is off. I’m in the habit of turning the power supply switch off before I plug the cord into it to avoid any chance of a surge happening then.

The biggest problem is when the switch or motherboard circuitry start acting up. It’s common for me to hear the complaint that a machine won’t turn on. The usual solution is to turn off the power supply switch, turn on the power supply switch, then try the front button again.

Of course, here’s where I could get into the problem of users burying their computers in places, or under/around/between stuff, where it’s barely possible to reach the front switch, never mind the back switch, or the cables on the back.

Malware Slayer

Jay Tea describes an experience cleaning up malware, that is, adware and spyware, on an extended family computer. There’s that family tech support thing again. I can’t blame him for feeling dirty, as it was a particularly bad infestation.

He took a somewhat different approach from the hardcore one here and for that matter, here. Yahoo’s toolbar? I’d never have thought to do that.

One thing though; installing Firefox is priceless. It goes most of the way toward preventing the problem from happening again. And again and again and again.