Making sure your downloads complete on Vista

Vista has a number of new features that optimize the way that your computer functions – especially in the area of power consumption. The new power plans, sleep mode and more intelligent management of hardware resources are some of these. However, there is one small problem that comes with this – if you leave your computer to perform a download, in many cases it just doesn’t complete since Vista automatically puts the computer to sleep after a period of inactivity. This is especially true if you’re downloading on a laptop and on battery.

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Categories: Tips | Windows Vista

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Detailed System Monitor Gadget

System Monitor GadgetIf you're a Vista Sidebar gadget freak like me, then this one is for you. I ran across a gadget called System Monitor from BuildAGadget.com. This is one that can show you a whole bunch of information about your currently running system. This includes:

  1. Date
  2. Time
  3. Single, Dual, Quad core usage stats
  4. Memory usage stats
  5. WiFi signal strength
  6. Battery status and remaining time
  7. IP Address - both internal (NAT) and external
  8. Network tools - like WHOIS, Ping, Trace route, IP and Domain lookups

This basically lets you replace a bunch of other system Sidebar tools. The nice thing is that you can easily enable or disable any of these "monitors" and individually configure settings for them such as what to display (text or graphics), color of the display bar, and other specific information (number of cores/which IPs to show, etc.).

This is a great tool to be quickly informed about a number of system resources and a must if you use the Vista Sidebar.


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Categories: Gadgets | Rave | Windows Vista

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Windows Vista 1-year Security Vulnerability Report

Jeff Jones, the Microsoft Security guy, has just released a 1-year security vulnerability report of Windows Vista versus other operating systems for their first year. The OSs compared are: Windows XP, RedHat Linux Enterprise 4 (Workstation), Ubuntu 6.06 and Apple MacOS X v10.4. Here is a summary of the report.

Metric

Vista

XP

RHEL4ws*

Ubuntu 6.06*

Mac OS X
 10.4

Vulnerabilities fixed

36

65

360

224

116

Security Updates

17

30

125

80

17

Patch Events

9

26

64

65

17

Weeks with at least 1 Patch Event

9

25

44

39

15

*: Reduced feature set over full install

Some points of note are:

  • To do a "fair" comparison between the 2 Windows and the 2 Linux variants here, the vulnerabilities in the Linux columns do not include optional and server components like OpenOffice, Gimp, gcc, Apache, bind etc.
  • Windows on the other hand was analyzed on ALL the components that it ships with - not a reduced set

So what does this mean? Vista is more secure than everything else? Well, if nothing else, it does tend to show that the improved focus on Security during the software development process at Microsoft is actually doing a huge bunch of good. So the next time someone mentions security, Vista and Linux, it might be useful to point them to this resource.


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Categories: Windows Vista

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Windows Vista SP1 Install Experience

I just went ahead and installed the Windows Vista Service Pack 1 from MSDN. I of course took the 64-bit version since that's what I'm running. The install process was very smooth. After a small (8-10 mins) install process after starting the process and going through the obligatory EULA and stuff, the system restarted once and informed me that there are three stages left for the install.

1st Stage: Installation continued at the login prompt area. Proceeded to stage 2 to up to around 8%. System rebooted. Time spent approximately 5 mins.

2nd Stage: A console based install process that seemed to list every single EXE/DLL available in Windows. Showed a huge number (>120,000) with a running count of files being updated. Suddenly jumped to the end much sooner than I expected. Time spent about 3 mins. System rebooted again

3rd Stage: Again a graphical install process at the login prompt area. Took about 5 minutes again.

After the 3rd stage, the system immediately took me to the login box - no reboot. Logged in and was immediately greeted by a Service Pack install success window. Going to the System properties confirmed this.

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Current status is that the system feels a little laggy - but that is to be expected. All the saved speed boosting information of SuperFetch is wiped out. So all applications will feel a little laggy the first few times they are opened. Let's see how it goes. Will keep noting down any experiences - good or bad - right here.


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Categories: Windows Vista

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Internet Explorer 32-bit vs. 64-bit

I might be one of those very few people who do not have an alternate browser installed on my machine. I use Internet Explorer exclusively and have been quite happy with its performance and stability especially in Windows Vista. However, ever since I switched over to Vista x64, I've been strange, intermittent problems with it. Sometimes the browser just freezes for a fairly long time wheile loading certain Web pages. Although it starts responding in a while, it does become irritating.

This is where my new alternate browser comes in. This is Internet Explorer 7.0 (64-bit). IE64 has been fantastically stable and super-duper fast in both loading and rendering pages. There are only two reasons why I've not switched to using IE64 exclusively:

  1. Adobe doesn't have a Flash rendering for IE64 (or for that matter any other 64-bit browser). This is a real pain since a lot of sites do use flash. Unfortunately, nor does SilverLight - which is a pity considering Microsoft is pushing the 64-bit platform quite a bit.
  2. Links clicked from programs such as Outlook or Windows Mail always open in IE32. I haven't found a way to change this to default to IE64. The "Default Programs" section in Control Panel only lists "Internet Explorer" as a choice for the browser and doesn't allow me to select the 64-bit version of this.

I really wish I could change to running fully 64-bit programs since the benefits seem to be great.


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My 64-bit Adventure in Vista

Well, posting after a long time. I've been busy in multiple things over the last few days - including being involved in the Windows Server 2008 Roadshow, talking to GoI officials on processes, etc.

During this time, I also upgraded my system to 4GB RAM and a 250GB hard disk. I went ahead and installed Windows Vista Ultimate x64 on it since my XPS M1710 is EMT64 enabled. The installation went off without a hitch. In fact I was pleasantly surprised to find that Vista detected and installed my WiFi card automatically - something it didn't do in the 32-bit version! Anyway, I downloaded the latest Vista 64-bit drivers for all the hardware components from Dell's site and installed all of them to get the maximum performance and features. (It is always a good idea to replace the stock MS drivers with specific drivers for your hardware to get the benefits of whatever it is that you're using. MS supplies a fairly basic set of drivers, in any case.)

Once that was done, the time to install all my favorite software came up. So I went ahead and installed a bunch of them. Here's my list and comments on each:

  • Office 2007: No separate x64 edition but works just fine. No noticeable difference between x32 and x64
  • SQL Server 2005 Developer Edition x64: Now this is a native 64-bit version and installs fine. You need to download and install the SQL Server 2005 SP2 x64 as well. But good to see that even the developer edition supports x64
  • Visual Studio 2008 Team Edition: No separate x64 edition but it does install the .Net Framework x64 and a couple of other x64 components - so at least it's aware of being in a 64-bit environment
  • Raxco PerfectDisk 8.0: Got an RD deal on this and have been using it for a long time. Simply the best defragger out there. And the best part is that it comes with a 64-bit edition as well. You need to extract the installer file into a folder (if you have Winrar installed, simply right click the setup file and select Extract to...). Once extracted, you will see an x64 folder which contains a setup.exe. Simply run this to install the 64-bit version
  • Daemon Tools 4: Well, this claims to be 64-bit too. But there is only a single download that says that it will run the correct version (x32/x64) by detecting it. However this doesn't seem to be the case as the Daemon Tools process running on my machine is the 32-bit version
  • AVG AntiVirus Professional: If you need a 64-bit enabled antivirus there are only a very few choices. I tried Avast! Free Home Edition but didn't like it. Then found out that AVG has 64-bit extensions in its Professional edition. Since I've been using AVG Free for ages and love the fact that it is very non-intrusive and takes up very little resources, I immediately purchased a two year subscription of the Pro edition. And yes, it does have a 64-bit scanner as well
  • WinRAR: Sadly no 64-bit version of this. I did think that they would release one since the amount of computation that a 64-bit version could do is more than a 32-bit one and compression algorithms might benefit from it.

So far the 64-bit adventure has been nice. Here are some other observations and comments that I've had to face:

  1. My machine shows only 3326 MB instead of the full 4096 MB  - even in the BIOS. For all those who tell me that 64-bit is the answer, well not entirely. The motherboard also needs to support a concept called "Memory Hole Remapping" - a way to move the address space used by peripheral devices (such as video card, etc.) into a space above the physically installed RAM. On my machine the motherboard doesn't support this - so the BIOS will always show a "hole" in the available RAM. For instance, if I upgrade my RAM to 8GB, both the BIOS and Vista will happily use 7326 MB of RAM. Vista 32-bit would not be able to utilize even this much.
  2. Software developers need to pay attention to their installers as well. Even software that are 64-bit usually have 32-bit installers. So when the install starts up, the default folder to which they try to get installed to is "Program Files (x86)" rather than "Program Files" - which on Vista x64 is the folder for 64-bit programs.
  3. Now that many people are on the 64-bit route even on desktops and laptops, it makes sense to have 64-bit versions of popular software. Hopefully 2008 will be the year where we see more 64-bit software coming out.

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Signing and Securing Your Publicly Viewable Documents

One of the important things people want these days is security for their documents. Not only do people want to be able to digitally sign the documents they send out, they also want that the receiving party has restrictions on what they can do with these documents. This is where Information Rights Management (IRM) comes in. And creating such documents is very easy if you're using Office 2007 and Vista. However, even if you're using Windows XP/2003 and an older version of MS Office you can still do this. Simply download and install the XPS Toolkit. Once you do, you will have a new XPS "printer" that you can print documents to that will save as files with the extension .XPS. Anyone who needs to view the file will also need to install the same toolkit. This is similar to having Adobe Reader or Foxit Reader to read .PDF files. Anyway, let's now see how you can secure and sign a document that you need to send to, say a vendor, but you do not wish him to copy or print it, only view it.

First create your document in any application. I'm using Word 2007 since that can create XPS files directly.

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Save the file as an XPS file.

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Double click the file to open in the XPS Viewer (embedded in Internet Explorer)

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Click the Permissions button on the top, and when prompted sign in with your Passport account. Once done, you will get this dialog box. click on Apply Permissions and add users by their passport accounts or by adding "Everyone". Select the permissions you wish to give each user.

image

You can now add a digital certificate (if you have one installed on your system for your name/email) by clicking the Digital Signatures | Sign This Document. Follow the prompts, select the certificate to use and finally sign the file with this dialog box.

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The XPS viewer should show you the two yellow bars on top that show you that the document is restricted as well as signed.

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Email the document, say first to yourself. Open it on a different machine to check it out. Save the attachment and try to open it. You will get the following error.

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Close this box and right click the XPS file and select properties. In the General tab, click the "Unblock" button to allow the content to be viewed.

image

Now double click the file to open it in the viewer. You will be prompted for your Passport account information. Sign in and follow the prompts. Once complete, you will be able to see the final document - this time with restrictions enabled. For instance, if you have not given Copy rights, you will be unable to select and copy any content in the document. In fact, even the Print Screen button is disabled in this mode.

image

So here is a quick summary:

  1. You can use XPS to both Sign as well as Secure your documents
  2. You can use Office 2007 and Vista to natively use XPS
  3. You can use any application and Windows XP/2003 with the XPS Toolkit to do this too
  4. The people you send the document to must have both the XPS Toolkit as well as a Passport account to work with the document
  5. The restrictions can allow you to stop copy, print screen, print, and email of the content of your document

So go ahead and use this great feature to protect and sign your document form today itself.


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