Is the Windows Experience Index really of any value?

Those who follow me on Twitter (@markwilsonit) may have seen a few comments about the Windows Vista laptop that I’m currently fixing for a family member, who decided not to “bother” me when they bought a new computer, yet still relies on me for help when it doesn’t work as intended…

The laptop was woefully underpowered, with just 1GB of RAM (but only 768MB available) and an Intel Celeron 540 CPU running at 1.87GHz.  Patching the operating system seemed to improve things slightly (it was running Windows Vista RTM, with no updates successfully applied for over 18 months) but what it really needed was more RAM. The Crucial System Scanner told me it had a single memory module, with room for one more, so I invested the princely sum of £13.67 in making the system usable.

Not surprisingly, the addition of the extra memory to the machine changed the Windows Experience Index values for memory operations per second but it also significantly increased the graphics score:

Component What is rated? Fujitsu-Siemens Esprimo V5535, Celeron 540, 1GB RAM Fujitsu-Siemens Esprimo V5535, Celeron 540, 2GB RAM
Processor Calculations per second 4.1 4.1
Memory (RAM) Memory operations per second 3.9 4.4
Graphics Desktop performance for Windows Aero 3.5 4.9
Gaming graphics 3D business and gaming graphics performance 3.2 3.2
Primary hard disk Disk data transfer rate 5.1 5.1

Unfortunately, Windows Vista Home Basic doesn’t include Aero (there are some workarounds on the ‘net but they didn’t seem to work for me), so I left the system running as normal.

What I found bizarre though was that even the crippled system with 1GB of RAM and only a few MB free (which was almost unusable, it was so slow) had similar Windows Experience Index scores to my everyday laptop – a much more powerful machine with an Intel Core 2 Due P8400 CPU at 2.26GHz, 4GB RAM and Windows 7 x64:

Component What is rated? Fujitsu-Siemens Lifebook S7220, Core2Duo P8400, 4GB RAM
Processor Calculations per second 3.1
Memory (RAM) Memory operations per second 4.3
Graphics Desktop performance for Windows Aero 4.1
Gaming graphics 3D business and gaming graphics performance 3.4
Primary hard disk Disk data transfer rate 4.5

Perhaps Microsoft updated the Windows Experience Index algorithm between Vista and 7, or between 32- and 64-bit systems, (I thought they just increased the maximum score from 5.9 to  7.9) but it seems to make a mockery of the “experience index” when a basic consumer system scores more highly than a mid-range business machine.

Windows support lifecycle reminders

Last week, I wrote about the forthcoming service pack for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2.  At the other end of its support lifecycle, is Windows 2000, which finally reaches end of life (i.e. the end of extended support) on 13 July 2010.

Windows XP remains on extended support for a while longer (until 8 April 2014) but service pack 2 (SP2) also goes out of support on 13 July 2010 and, from that date onwards, Microsoft will no longer support or provide free security updates for Windows XP systems running SP2 or earlier.  Service pack 3 is available free of charge; however Windows XP users should really be planning on migration to a later version of Windows.  For details of how to obtain the latest service pack for Windows XP, see Microsoft knowledge base article 322389.

Also, on 13 July, Windows Server 2003 moves out of mainstream support and into its extended support phase.   Service pack 1 for Windows Server 2003 was retired on 14 April 2009, so service pack 2 is required in order to remain supported.  For details of how to obtain the latest service pack for Windows Server 2003 (and Windows Server 2003 R2), see Microsoft knowledge base article 889100.  Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2003 R2 are subject to the same support lifecycle milestones as each other.

Windows Vista with no Service Packs installed will also lose support on 13 April 2010.  Customers are advised to install service pack 2 for Windows Vista in order to remain secure and supported (although service pack 1 is still supported until 12 July 2011).  For details of how to obtain the latest service pack for Windows Vista, see Microsoft knowledge base article 935791.

Customers running Windows Server 2008 have plenty of time left in their operating system investment, although Windows Server 2008 service pack 1 will be retired on 12 July 2011.  For details of how to obtain the latest service pack for Windows Server 2008, see Microsoft knowledge base article 968849.  The same service pack is applicable to both Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008.

Vista Squad has rebranded

The Vista Squad was a popular UK user group for the Windows client and related topics. Of course, now that Windows 7 is here, Vista is old hat and so they have rebranded to the curiously named “Edge” user group.

Existing requests to the old website should redirect to the new domain and the meeting structure will remain the same. Sadly they seem to have dropped the dynamic Lego characters from their logo… that’s a shame because all the other UK UGs have such dull logos.

You can also find follow the Edge User Group on Twitter @edge_ug.

Windows Vista SP2 baulks if SP1 is not present

For as long as I can remember, Windows service packs have been cumulative – i.e. if you install the most recent service pack, it includes the earlier ones. Unfortunately, Microsoft has broken that model with Windows Vista and Server 2008 service pack 2 and it won’t install on a Vista computer until you have installed service pack 1.

Windows Vista SP2 baulks if SP1 is not presentWhether this is a technicality from the single service pack being applicable to both client and server editions of Windows or because Microsoft has a new approach to service packs is yet to be seen.

At least Windows Server 2008 administrators will find life a little easier as service pack 1 was integrated into the RTM release of that operating system.

Windows Vista and Server 2008 SP2 goes RTM… but you can’t get it yet

Not to be confused with Windows Server 2008 R2, Windows Vista and Server 2008 service pack 2 (SP2) was released to manufacturing yesterday, the same day the the blocker tool for Windows Vista SP1 was removed (Windows Server 2008 shipped with SP1 included).

Full details of the service pack may be found in Microsoft knowledge base article 948465 and there’s also a notable changes page on the Windows Client TechCenter. In addition, Microsoft knowledge base article 969707 gives details of some of the applications that might have problems after installing the service pack.

[Update 30 April 2009: There’s no download link yet – the official line is that public availability is expected later this quarter. TechNet and MSDN subscribers can now download SP2 and I’d expect to see a public download link at the Windows Client TechCenter soon.]

The sun sets on Windows XP, Office 2003 and Windows Server 2003 SP1 – Vista SP1 and XP SP3 will soon be unblocked – Office 2007 SP2 to ship at the end of April – Office “14” is given a name (and will be available in both 32- and 64-bit versions)

Just in case you hadn’t noticed, today is the day that Windows XP and Office 2003 end their mainstream support phase and move onto extended support – it’s security hotfixes only from now on, unless you are prepared to pay. Security updates for Windows XP will continue to be issued via Windows Update until 8 April 2014 (ditto for Office 2003).

Whilst XP has enjoyed a longer period of mainstream support than would otherwise have been the case (due to the time it took for Microsoft to ship its successor – Windows Vista), many organisations have held back on upgrades due to the negative press that Vista has received (which may have been partially warranted at release but is not exactly valid in 2009). Regardless of the perception of Windows Vista, Windows Vista R2 [ahem] Windows 7 is receiving plenty of praise and a release candidate is widely expected to be released within the next few weeks. Those considering an eventual move to Windows 7 could prepare themselves by application testing on the beta – or even using Windows Vista as a limited pilot in preparation (the two operating systems are remarkably similar, for all but those applications that need to work at a very deep level – e.g. anti virus and VPN software).

Meanwhile, reaction to Office 2007’s “ribbon” user interface has been mixed; regardless of the many improvements in Office applications with the 2007 release, many users are still using the same basic word processing features they had in earlier versions (dare I say as far back as Word for Windows 2.0) and so organisations are needing further persuasion to upgrade – for some the business case is only justified through integration with Office server products (such as Office SharePoint Server 2007 and Office Communications Server 2007 R2) although, my personal experience of reverting to Office 2003 for a few weeks whilst my laptop was being repaired was not a happy one… it’s amazing how those “little tweaks” become embedded in your way of working after a while.

As for Windows Server, those organisations still running Windows Server 2003 (including R2) with service pack 1 lose their support today – Windows Server 2003 with service pack 2 will continue to receive mainstream support until 13 July 2010 with extended support ending on 14 July 2015.

On the subject of service packs, now is probably a good time to remind people that the service pack blocking tools for Windows Vista SP1 and Windows XP SP3 will expire on 28 April 2009 and 19 May 2009 respectively, after which time the updates will be automatically delivered via Windows Update. As for Office updates, Office 2007 service pack 2 is due for release on 28 April 2009 (including support for ODF, PDF and XPS document formats).

Looking ahead to the next release of Microsoft Office, various websites are reporting that Office codenamed “14” has been named as… no surprise here… Office 2010. APC’s David Flynn is citing delays that prevent a tandem launch with Windows 7 but I have no recollection of any announcements by Microsoft for either a joint launch or a 2009 release – and they have not even committed publicly to releasing Windows 7 this year (it’s all pure speculation by journalists, bloggers and other pundits)… how can something slip if it’s not even been formally announced? Meanwhile ARStechnica is concentrating on the availability of both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Office 2010.

The halycon days of wholesale PC refreshes every few years may now be just a distant memory but these changes signal the need for IT departments to seriously consider their options. With Office 2010 expected to include web applications based on a monthly subscription charge, increasingly feasible online services, and desktop virtualisation becoming increasingly viable (in various forms – be that full VDI, a managed virtual desktop running on a traditional PC, or a hybrid solution using something like MED-V), these are interesting times for those given the task of providing a corporate desktop.

Establishing parental control: easy when you know how

This week, Channel 4 is running a series of sex education television programmes looking at how young people today are gaining their sex education from Internet porn – and as a result are exposed to some disturbing content on the web.

I like to think that I’m fairly open-minded but my eldest son is reaching the point where I am considering giving him his own computer and, whilst I’d like to think that his computer time will be supervised, that will not always be possible as he grows up, or when he uses systems at friends’ houses, school, Internet cafés, etc..

One of the points that Channel 4 is highlighting is the lack of awareness (and knowledge, based on visits to a PC World, Sony Store and Micro Anvika stores) about the parental controls that are available in modern operating systems so, in this post, I’ll give a quick rundown of how to set up parental controls on your child’s PC – without resorting to additional software like that listed on the Kids’ safety advice on GetNetWise.

First up, the operating system on most of the world’s PCs – Microsoft Windows. Windows XP may not have any parental controls within the operating system but Vista and 7 do – as long as you are not running in a domain! Yes, that’s right – no parental controls on domain-joined PCs. I suspect this is something to do with the prospect of being hauled up in front of the United States Department of Justice or the European Union Competition Commission by the vendors of content filtering solutions if businesses relied on the controls built into the operating system to stop their employees from visiting the less salubrious portions of the web but for me, with several domain-joined PCs in the home, this effectively means my children will have to use their own PC. Not necessarily an issue but nevertheless an unnecessary constraint, particularly for those who have a single PC used for both home and business activities and also joined to a corporate domain (perhaps in a small business environment).

Assuming that your Windows Vista or Windows 7 PC is not joined to a domain, it’s parental controls are accessed via Control Panel and include limits on web content, limits on computer access times and games, as well as the ability to block access to specific applications. More information on Windows Parental Controls is available on the Windows help site and it’s also possible to view activity reports.

Over on the Mac, it’s pretty much the same story – OS X 10.4 (Tiger) and 10.5 (Leopard) include parental controls in the user account properties. In addition, OS X can display a simplified Finder window for young or inexperienced users, only allow access to certain applications, hide profanity in the dictionary (yes, I used to look up rude words in a paper dictionary when I was a boy!), limit website access (including the ability to create allow and deny lists) limit the users with whom mail and IM can be exchanged, enforce computer time limits (with different limits for weekdays and weekends!) as well as bedtime on school nights and weekends (I should try setting this on my own account).

The principles are similar in Windows and on the Mac but I’m using the Mac in these screen grabs (because my Windows machines are domain-joined). If I search for the first thing that a schoolboy might think of when given Internet access, it’s blocked:

Parental Controls preventing website access in Safari on Mac OS X 10.5

Unless I happen to know the administrator password:

Parental Controls requesting authentication on Mac OS X 10.5

Similarly, if I try to open an image, using an application that’s not allowed (in this case the OS X Preview application)… computer says “no”:

Parental Controls preventing application access on Mac OS X 10.5

And, assuming I’m not watching over my child like a hawk, I can keep an eye on their computing activities from a distance using the logs:

Parental Controls logging activity on Mac OS X 10.5

By now, you have probably got some idea of what’s possible on the mainstream consumer operating systems. Over in Linux-land it’s a little more complicated but still possible using a combination of IP filters, third party applications and limited DNS (e.g. OpenDNS). I’m sure I’ll write more as I become exposed to child computing habits but, for now, hopefully this has highlighted the ability to easily put in place some controls to protect your children from the Internet, whilst simultaneously allowing them some freedom.

Installing Windows SharePoint Services on Windows 7 (or Vista)

Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) is not supported on a client operating system, but that’s not to say it shouldn’t run – right? After all, Windows client releases include a web server and can run a database service – that should pretty much cover the basics (back in the days of Windows NT it was generally reckoned that the differences between the Workstation and Server releases were just a few registry entries – but even if that was true then, there are a few more differences today)! In response to this, the guys at Bamboo Nation came up with an installer for SharePoint on Vista and, even though it’s been around for a while (thanks to Garry Martin for alerting me to this), last week I finally got around to trying it out on Windows 7.

It seems to work well but, having never installed SQL Server 2008 Express Edition (WSS needs access to a SQL database) I needed to combine two very good resources (the Jonas Nilsson’s installation guide for Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 SP1 on Windows Vista and Symantec’s article on installing and configuring SQL Server 2008 Express) – the result is my installation notes (repeated in full here in case either of those articles ever disappears but for screen shots, refer to the originals – or to Jim Parshall’s video tutorial):

  1. Gather together all the resources that will be required. Assuming that Windows is already running, the remaining components are:
  2. Install and configure SQL Server 2008 Express Edition:
    • SQL Express may be downloaded with or without tools – I went for the “without” option but the tools may be useful for troubleshooting purposes. If you’re installing on an older platform, there are some pre-requisites (.NET Framework 3.5 SP1, Windows Installer 4.5 and Windows PowerShell 1.0) but my Windows 7 client already had these (or later versions).
    • Run the SQL Server Express installer and follow the wizard. It’s fairly straightforward but there are a couple of things to watch out for:
      • For the instance configuration, specify MSSQLSERVER as both the named instance and the instance ID.
      • For the server configuration, use NT AUTHORITY\SYSTEM (no password) as the SQL Server database engine account name and set the SQL Server Browser startup type to Automatic.
      • For database engine configuration, either Windows or mixed mode authentication may be used (I stuck with the defaults) but the installer will not continue until users or groups are specified for unrestricted access to the SQL server. SQL DBAs and security guys will probably have lots of best practice advice here for use with production servers but I took the view that it’s probably nothing too much to worry about on a developer workstation and simply gave the necessary rights to the account I was running as.
  3. Install and configure Internet Information Services in Control Panel, Programs and Features by clicking the option to turn Windows features on or off and enabling:
    • Internet Information Services
      • Web Management Services
        • IIS 6 Management Compatibility
          • IIS 6 Management Console
          • IIS 6 Scripting Tools
          • IIS 6 WMI Campatability
          • IIS 6 Metabase and IIS 6 configuration capability
        • IIS Management Console
      • World Wide Web Services
        • Application Development Features
          • .NET Extensibility
          • ASP.NET
          • ISAPI Extensions
          • ISAPI Filters
        • Common HTTP Features
          • Default Document
          • Directory Browsing
          • HTTP Errors
          • HTTP Redirection
          • Static Content
        • Health and Diagnostics
          • HTTP Logging
          • Request Monitor
        • Performance Features
          • HTTP Compression Dynamic
          • Static Content Compression
        • Security
          • Basic Authentication
          • Request Filtering
          • Windows Authentication
  4. Install the WSS on Vista setup helper application by running wssvista.msi.
  5. Install WSS by:
    • Locating the WSS on Vista helper application files in %programfiles%\WSSonVista\Setup and running setuplauncher.exe.
    • Pointing the setuphelper to the WSS installer (sharepoint.exe)
    • Following the WSS installation wizard, selecting an advanced installation for a web front-end server, creating a new server farm, and supplying the details for the local SQL database (including the account details).
  6. At the end of the WSS installation, take a note of the port number used, and then navigate to http://localhost:portnumber/. If all goes well, then you should see the SharePoint Central Administration site in your browser:
    Windows SharePoint Services running on Windows 7

Finally, a couple of additional notes:

  • I ran all of this as a standard user, answering just a few UAC prompts at the appropriate points to elevate my privileges).
  • These instructions will allow access to SharePoint site from the local machine; however it will be necessary to create some firewall exceptions if remote client access is required.

Bulk file renames in Windows Explorer

Working in Windows Explorer today, I noticed something that I found pretty useful. At first I wasn’t sure if it was a new feature in Windows 7 (I’ve since tested and found XP will do something similar, so I guess Vista will too) but I was bulk renaming files and found that Explorer would allow me to rename several files to the same filename root, but suffixed with an identifier to ensure that each file name was unique.

For example, imagine you work for an organisation that produces a lot of customer design documents but which is really keen on re-use. Some customisation is inevitable but you might start out with a template document, or you might work from a documentation set produced for a similar customer environment.

In this example, I have three documents in my set:

Customer X – Infrastructure Design (AD)
Customer X – Infrastructure Design (Exchange)
Customer X – Infrastructure Design (SharePoint)

If I copy and paste these, I now have 6 documents:

Customer X – Infrastructure Design (AD) – Copy
Customer X – Infrastructure Design (AD)
Customer X – Infrastructure Design (Exchange) – Copy
Customer X – Infrastructure Design (Exchange)
Customer X – Infrastructure Design (SharePoint) – Copy
Customer X – Infrastructure Design (SharePoint)

Keeping the copies highlighted, if I right click and select Rename, I can rename them all to a common root of Customer Y - Infrastructure Design. The resulting directory structure is:

Customer X – Infrastructure Design (AD)
Customer X – Infrastructure Design (Exchange)
Customer X – Infrastructure Design (SharePoint)
Customer Y – Infrastructure Design (3)
Customer Y – Infrastructure Design (2)
Customer Y – Infrastructure Design

At this point, it’s now very simple (faster than renaming each file individually and typing the whole filename would have been) to amend the end of each filename to get what I really wanted:

Customer X – Infrastructure Design (AD)
Customer X – Infrastructure Design (Exchange)
Customer X – Infrastructure Design (SharePoint)
Customer Y – Infrastructure Design (AD)
Customer Y – Infrastructure Design (Exchange)
Customer Y – Infrastructure Design (SharePoint)

Some people may be unimpressed. Others may say “script it”. And more people might say use the document templating features in Microsoft Office! Whatever your view, for me, this was a real timesaver.

Upgrading to Windows 7 – it’s all about reliability

There’s been plenty written over the last week or so about Microsoft’s plans for users upgrading to Windows 7 and, in short, customers will be able to purchase an upgrade license, but there will be no in-place upgrade path from Windows XP (direct in-place upgrades from Vista will be supported but are not recommended).

After all the anti-Vista press, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see that much of what’s been written about Windows 7 has been relatively positive (I even wondered if they should market the product as Windows Mojave!) but now the critics have found something to complain about.

“What! No direct upgrade path from my 8-year old (n-minus-2) OS?”

Yes. Exactly. And that is A Good Thing.

I’ve often wondered why Windows gets such a hard time with stories of system crashes and general unreliability but that’s just not been my experience. I thought that maybe it was because I’ve been running NT-based systems (including Windows 2000, XP, 2003, 2008, Vista, 7) for the last thirteen years – after all, I certainly experienced that sort of chaos at one company where I worked but when we migrated the 4000 European employees from something approximating 4000 customised installations (mostly Windows 95/98, with users rebooting several times a day) to a standard Windows XP image, reliability improved significantly.

Ironically, it was buying a Mac that helped me to realise why people think that Windows is buggy and unstable. My Windows systems are my workhorses. I install standard software and I use them. I might install the odd application here and there, but it’s generally well-written software and it’s not a succession of installations and uninstallations. I also tend to dump the OEM installation and to perform a clean installation of Windows with each new operating system (although I have also used upgraded machines). On the Mac I’m much more of a novice: I have to learn how to do things; I download things that look interesting, then take them off again – and then I have reliability issues. Not a huge problem – but probably the cause of more forced restarts than I experience on my Windows PCs.

So what exactly is my point? Well, firstly this is not a Mac vs. PC discussion. The point I’m making is that, on any platform, the key to stability is only making configuration changes where necessary (i.e. incessent tweaking is generally not a good thing). The other point is that starting from a known baseline (i.e. a clean OS installation) is highly recommended.

When Apple shipped the last major update of its operating system (Mac OS X 10.5 “Leopard”) the general advice was to perform an “archive and install” installation. Basically, that’s what Microsoft is offering for XP users moving to Windows 7 but, unlike Apple, who have the benefit of a closed system with only a few devices (at least at a hardware and operating system level), Microsoft has to support almost infinite permutations of hardware and software for its operating system. And, from a brief conversation yesterday with one of my colleagues, it seems the situation is no different on Linux – if I want to move from an old distribution of Ubuntu to the latest version then I should expect to have to reinstall.

There was one comment on the article that Randall C Kennedy’s wrote for his enterprise desktop column at InfoWorld which just about summed this up for me:

“[…] I’ll bet if Microsoft did allow for an upgrade his next article would be bitching about all the upgrade problems Windows 7 caused from XP systems.

Next blog we’ll probably see how puppies (really cute ones too) are slaughtered in the process of making Windows 7. Desperate stories call for desperate measures.”

Even his colleague J Peter Bruzzese at InfoWorld can’t agree when he argues why Microsoft’s XP-Windows 7 upgrade strategy is right.

Opinion aside, for most corporates, clean, imaged, installations will be the preferred deployment option for Windows 7. Meanwhile, the majority of consumers will run an OEM-installed copy of Windows that came with their PC. Only a relatively small number of consumers, small business users and hobbiests will want to upgrade directly from Windows XP or Vista to Windows 7 (and the Vista users will be able to do this in-place, if they so desire) and, from Microsoft’s perspective, limiting the options to reduce the likelihood of users experiencing upgrade issues makes sound business sense.