Thursday, October 22, 2009

Windows 7 First Impressions - Updated

Tonight I installed Windows 7 Home Premium on my notebook, previously running XP. This machine is slightly over two years old and the graphics chip does not support the Aero Glass feature – which I would have turned off anyway. The installation was pain free and clearly faster than XP and Vista installations were.

And believe it or not: Subjectively the little notebook with Windows 7 feels faster than with Windows XP! That indeed is a welcome surprise.

For the transfer of my data files and settings from the XP environment into Win7 I used Microsoft’s program Windows Easy Transfer. I had to transfer three user accounts with all their files and settings. The worst part was that writing the migration file took 1.5 hours, certainly because I had about 11.5 GB of data in my account alone. The migration file had a total size of over 14 GB. Restoring all this took a little less than one hour.

My opinion about Widows 7? I love it!

I know Microsoft products since long before the first PC was released – and that was in fall 1981! This is the first time I see a major Microsoft product being released that is useable from the day of the release on. Congratulations, Microsoft. 

I will report back after I have done the first in place update from Vista to Win 7.

October 30 2009: That has happened in the meantime. Here is a brief summary.

If you have to transfer any of the following

  • many files
  • Firefox settings, bookmarks, extensions and so on
  • Thunderbird email settings, mail and address book
  • and/or more than 1 user account

plan for several hours and use Microsoft’s utility Windows Easy Transfer. This little gem of a program is still quite minimal but it does the job AND it allows you to select additionally to it’s standard selections any folders of your choice, for example Thunderbird, Mozilla (Firefox settings) and others according to your needs. Be aware that programs can NOT be transferred to Windows 7, they always need to be re-installed. And naturally you need a sufficiently large external storage device; I recommend to finally buy that external disk drive you always wanted. You get good Seagate FreeAgent drives for well under $100 and finally have no more excuse not to have a usable backup as well.

If you have to transfer only one user account AND if your system is well maintained, that is temporary files deleted, virus free, completely up-to-date AND if it is a relatively recent Vista system, maybe less than 6 months old, you can try an in-place upgrade. Caution: The very last phase of the process takes quite some time; go have a Starbucks or jog around the park. I have done already two of those and they were pain free.

Personally I prefer a clean complete new install (Microsoft calls it Custom) for any system that has had some use already; for XP systems it is a must anyway. Beware, this install completely wipes all old content from your hard disk. Do you have a recent or current backup of your files OUTside of your computer? If not you got to do some homework before you can install Windows 7.

And another experience: If your computer is more than 6 months old download and run Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor. Heed it’s warnings and do your homework BEFORE you attempt the upgrade to Windows 7.

You may ask “My XP system runs ok, why all that trouble”? If your computer meets the requirements for Windows 7 you will love the result. IMHO Windows 7 is faster and MUCH safer than XP; it is MUCH faster, somewhat safer and MUCH less annoying than Vista! Again, applause to Microsoft.

As usual I welcome comments and suggestions right here in the blog.

Thank you in advance.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

32-bit or 64-bit System?

For home users with Windows XP there is no question, they have a 32-bit operating system. With Windows Vista or Windows 7 you need to know what version your computer is running. How do you find out what it is? Right click on Computer and click on Properties. Under the heading “System” you find the answer. Here is an example from my computer: 
Recent hands-on experience shows that on identical hardware 64-bit systems are often faster than 32-bit systems. 
If you found yourself thinking “Will this 32-bit software run on my 64-bit operating system?” or “Will this 64-bit software run on my computer?” or "Should I buy that 64-bit system?" or if you just would like to know more about the difference then read on.
I will try to answer these questions and help you understand the 64-bit and 32-bit concepts of hardware, operating system and applications.
32-bit systems have been part of consumer computing for more than a decade since the time of the Intel Pentium, also known as 80386 architecture or sometimes x86 for short. Most software and operating system code written during this time is 32-bit compatible.
32-bit systems can address up to 4 GB of memory. Some modern applications require more memory to complete their tasks. Progress in chip fabrication technology and demands of high power applications led to the development of 64-bit processors for mainstream computing.
Here is the problem: Most of the software available today is still 32-bit code, but processors have migrated to 64-bit and operating systems are catching up quickly. Eventually even the applications will catch up. Thus we have to cope with many possible combinations of 32 and 64-bits hardware, operating system and applications.
Consider these three factors to be three layers with the processor as the lowest layer and the application as the highest layer.

To run a 64-bit application, you need support from all lower levels (64-bit OS and 64-bit processor).
  • To run a 64-bit OS, you need support from its lower level 64-bit processor; it will NOT run on a 32-bit processor.
  • A 32-bit OS will run on a 32 or 64-bit processor without any problems because 64-bit processors can emulate a 32-bit processor.
  • 32-bit applications will run on any supported combination of OS and processor. In a 64-bit OS this is possible due to software emulation, a feature of 64-bit operating systems.
  • Device drivers run parallel to the operating system. Emulation happens only at the operating system level; it is available to the higher layer only, that is the applications. Thus it is not possible to install 32-bit device drivers on a 64-bit machine.
Answers to common questions:
Will a 64-bit CPU run a standard 32-bit program on a 64-bit version of an OS?
Yes it will. 64-bit systems are backward compatible with the 32-bit counterparts (see the warning below).
Will a 64-bit OS run a standard 32-bit application on a 64-bit processor?
Yes it will because of backward compatibility. Please see the warning below.
Can I run Win2K and WinXP on an 64-bit CPU and use old software? Yes, a 32-bit OS like Win-2K and Win-XP will run on 64-bit processors. You can run "old software" on these 32-bit OS and 64-bit processors (see the warning below).
Will my devices (printer, scanner and so on) work when I buy this fancy new 64-bit machine with 64-bit OS?
Here you have to do your homework! Before you buy the fancy new 64-bit computer with 64-bit OS you have to verify that 64-bit drivers are available for all devices you plan on to keep using!
A warning: Many times 64-bit programs may contain bits of 32-bit code; old 32-bit programs can contain 16-bit code. Be aware that 16-bit code will NOT run on a 64-bit OS.
This is one reason why some old 32-bit programs will not work on a 64-bit OS.
Update 2-22-2010:
Personal recommendation when buying a new computer:
For quite a few peripherals that you may have like printers, scanners and so on you may NOT find 64-bit drivers. Do your home work before you buy the fancy-shmanzy new 64-bit system!
Should you not quite know how to do this sort of home work then send me an email to ejheinze_at_gmail_dot_com (or my “normal” email address) with a detailed list of exactly what peripherals you have and a request to find out for you if there are 64-bit drivers available. There will be a small charge for this service because it may be time consuming. 
As usual I welcome comments and suggestions right here in the blog.
Thank you in advance.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Microsoft Security Essentials Officially Released

Without any fanfare Microsoft released their new security offering Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) earlier last week.

I read about the release in an informational third-party newsletter I receive, not a single word about it in Microsoft's own publication about new downloads. Hardly believing I went to, searched for "microsoft security essentials" and got to this MSE home page with a working download link. What a change to former MS tactics of having a lot of fanfare and sometimes flaky or questionable stuff in the end.

First time I wrote about MSE July 22nd 2009. A follow-up was published August 22nd 2009. In the meantime I have taken to install MSE on my customers computers; it replaces 4 (FOUR!) other security related programs that the customer had to run manually about once very week.

On one machine MSE found and removed a clear leftover from some malicious stuff that the other programs had overlooked and on yet another machine MSE removed a Trojan horse virus that had so far escaped any detection. I know this is not representative and only anecdotal but nevertheless it again points in a very positive direction.

If you use MSE all you have to do is have any eye on it's little icon in the system tray.ScreenShot006As long as this tray icon is green all is well.

If it ever turns yellow or orange double click it and the program window will tell you clearly what to do and have a big fat yellow button right there for you to click.

If the icon ever turns red you better give it immediate attention; double click it and the program window will tell you clearly what to do and have a big fat red button right there for you to click.

I am expecting "official" comparisons between MSE and other security suites to be available in a few weeks time. Here is a first example from The Washington Post.

If future results are anything only close to that good I will definitely keep using MSE and recommend to my previous customers to switch over. The ease of use IMHO is unsurpassed. 

As usual I welcome comments and suggestions right here in the blog.

Thank you in advance.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

How Do Viruses And Other "Crap" Get On My Computer?

One of the most asked questions I get when I work at a customer's computer is "I am very careful when I am on the Internet. How do these viruses then get on my computer?".

Today I found a pretty good article that answers this question in quite some depth. Before I give you the link to this article let me mention that no matter how careful you are your computer will eventually get "nailed" by some malicious software; it's unavoidable.

Last year a significant number of web servers have been cracked by hackers and infected with very tricky software that will attempt to infect EVERY visitor of any of the web sites stored on the web server. This infection is really deeply rooted; "disinfecting" the computer would disable the server and thus all web sites stored on this computer for several days. So it gets done only very slowly - if at all.

With this background in mind you may want to read this article if you want an answer to the title question.

Update Oct.27th, 2013:
The newest epidemic in malicious software are PuPs, potentially unwanted programs. The "poyenyially" is nothing but a law suit safe euphemism; you don't want any of this stuff on your computer. Please read this post for more details. 

As usual I welcome suggestions and comments right here in the blog.

Click here for a categorized Table Of Contents.