Monday, January 26, 2009

Windows 7 - Installation and Configuration Notes

Well here's my detailed report on Windows 7 (And yes, its very long).
  1. First off, you need to repartition your hard disk. The Windows 7 install will clean out your partition. So you need to empty out a partition, or use GParted (Ubuntu)/QTParted (Kubuntu) to create one from the empty space in your hard disk.
  2. This must a primary partition, Windows 7 will use 8 GB + 2xMemory Size initially. I recommend creating at least a 20GB partition (I ended up creating a 37 GB partition - equivalent to a 40 GB HDD.)
  3. Do NOT let the installer create the partiton for you (say from a new HDD or unpartitioned space). Otherwise, in typical M$ fashion, the installer will create a proprietary format 200 MB recovery partition. If a 3rd party tool deletes this partition, you may corrupt the partition table, so format the partition before passing it to the installer
  4. On a side note, if you format with "Enable Compression" on the drive, Windows 7 installer will still disable compression; I dont know the reason for this but obviously, if you want to reenable compression, do it from inside Windows 7 not from your previous version.
  5. Windows 7 will mount its own partition as C:. One of the first things you should do on the first boot is map your partitions as you want them, I suggest mapping your old C: (if different from the Windows 7 boot partition) to what the Windows 7 partition maps to in the old windows version, to minimize confusion :)
  6. By default the Boot drive (normally C:) will be unmapped - since Windows 7 has "stolen" its mapping. Now you will get ONE CHANCE to map it to a new drive letter using the UI. So make sure you get it right, else you will have to muck around in the registry. Do not use this to remap your Windows 7 C:, you willl destroy your installation. Windows 7 also hides empty CD drives, you can force it to show them using Folder options/
  7. There is a nasty bug in Windows 7 that will corrupt your MP3 files. Install this update before you do anything else.
  8. The OS will mostly recognize your hardware on its own. Looking for drivers in Windows Update is turned off be default so turn it on. Also if your driver installer disk refuses to recognize the OS, you can just get into device manager, right click any non-functional devices and update driver by giving the CD drive as the search path.
  9. You can run an Administrator version of the command prompt (aka sudo in Ubuntu) this way. It is needed for many things - bcdedit, installing TFTPD32 as a service etc...
  10. If you want to recover some HDD space from Windows and you dont use the Hibernate feature :) you can recover space equal to Memory Size from Windows by executing "powercfg -h off" in an Administrative command Window.
  11. You can use bcdedit to rename your "Earlier Version of Windows" to "Windows XP" (or something else)
  12. Windows 7 comes with Windows Media Player 12. Unfortunately. this has the equalizer hidden.
  13. If (like me) you are using the 64-bit version of Windows 7, you need iTunes 64-bit not the normal version.
  14. You can remove the "Send Feedback" link if you want. (I personally like it)
  15. Also I would suggest getting a ReadyBoost capable flash drive and leaving it permanently attached to your machine to get a nice performance boost. They are even selling them in India now. BTW, it should be possible to use just about any flash drive with this feature, not just one of the newer ones :)
  16. Driver Signing: Sigh... Where to start? While many have claimed $ony's hand behind this, the fact remains that 64-bit Vista and Windows 7 (I have no idea of the behavior in 32-bit Windows 7) require all drivers to be signed. This is an annoyance - it prevents you from installing many devices and also certain software (mostly stuff like Daemon Tools, although newer versions supposedly have managed to get a signature). How to fix this?
    • Here's what doesn't work. Use GPEdit - Run gpedit.msc. Navigate to User Configuration > Administrative Templates > System > Driver Installation. Seemingly you can use this to set "Code Signing for device drivers" However, on closer inspection, this is not valid for Windows versions after 2003. Also, even the documentation (in the left pane) is out of date - the System properties no longer look and behave as described.
    • Use bcdedit to set DDISABLE_INTEGRITY_CHECKS. This only works for the next boot, so you have to set it in a logoff script. Alternately, you can do this by using F8 and selecting "Disable driver signing" at boot time. However, if you install an unsigned driver and forget to do this even once, the system may crash.
    • The best option, seems to be to use ReadyDriver Plus, which (for now) seems free. This installs a new boot option on your system, which automatically sets DDISABLE_INTEGRITY_CHECKS before booting. The program seems free for now.
    I'll try the 3rd option, if I run into an actual unsigned driver. For now, Daemon Tools website says it works with Windows 7 so I should be fine...
All my devices are working properly with the OS, with the exception of my ancient Pinnacle PCTV Vision tuner card. Pinnacle has some drivers, but they don't work - maybe due to driver signing :) However, I only use my tuner to upscale the output from my PS2 for my LCD TV, so I can easily reboot to XP to use it :)

Overall, this seems like a really nice version of Windows. I am in fact, willing to switch to using it as my main OS, I just need Nero installed and I should be good to go :) This is probably not a good idea - M$ specifically states that you will have to reinstall at the end of the beta, hopefully they will give an upgrade path (probably they will - considering the sheer popularity of this beta)

This seems to be M$'s answer to power users/enthusiasts - "Here's an OS for you please think of Vista as dead, use this and stop using us as a punching bag" :) And it works...

Allow me to leave you with some horribly pixellated night photos of Rashtrapati Bhavan (taken on Republic Day) with my Nokia 5800...

Windows 7 - Device Stage on the 5800

I have just installed Windows 7 and color me impressed! I am using the x64 edition, and till now, pretty much everything has worked seamlessly out of the box except my ancient Pinnacle PCTV Vision TV Tuner. Its way too late for me to write much (its 4:15 AM here in India) However, let me just leave you with a screen shot of Device Stage in action on my 5800.
Tomorrow's a holiday, so I'll write up on this some more...

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Disabling Autorun on Windows - Update

Enabling Autorun on Windows is a huge security risk. Autorun basically allows anyone to create a CD or a USB flash drive with an autorun.inf on it and have the code on it run without your permission when it is inserted into your machine. Autorun is the way Sony installled its Rootkit into your system when you wanted to play a Audio CD, Autorun is the way Downadup infects your system. I normally disable Autorun as one of the first things I do on a new system, and I strongly recommend everyone do the same.

This is a topic I have covered before, but I was quite surprised to find a recent post by US-CERT warning that the method I had mentioned was not sufficient. So here is the updated and complete method to disable Autorun:
  1. Install M$ KB953252
  2. Follow the instructions here. Using the Group Policy Editor, navigate to Local Computer Policy > Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > System. Double click on Turn Off Autoplay. Set it to Enabled on "All Drives"
  3. This step was recommended by me earlier. This is no longer required, but you can still use it if you are paranoid. This has a disadvantage - it will disable Windows MCN (Media Change Notification) so the system will no longer detect the label of newly inserted CDs etc. If you want, follow the steps here. Navigate to HKLM\System\CurrentControlSet\Services\CDRom and set the value of AutoRun to 0
  4. Follow the instructions here. Basically, add the following to your Registry
    [HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\IniFileMapping\Autorun.inf]
  5. Restart your machine
Complicated? Well, I am just surprised no one screamed at Micro$oft for letting people run programs on your machine without your permission when the whole Rootkit thing happened...

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Nokia 5800 Review

2009 has gotten of to a OKish start. I finally got the copy of Oblivion I had ordered on EBay, only to find it on sale at ShopTo for Rs. 1000/- less (including shipping) Sigh... Lot of exciting games coming out this year (including for the PS3) My personal favorite - Heavy Rain. I have played Indigo Prophecy and Quantinc Dream's handling of gameplay is simply amazing. Sony seem to be getting their act together now, with some decent exclusives this year, although posting a loss for the first time in 14 years is not good for them.

I have been using the 5800 for a couple of weeks now, so lets go ahead with the review I promised :) This is really long so be prepared :)

My 5800 is shaping out to be a really good product. I managed to figure out how to use GPS (er... doesnt work in enclosed areas), actually remove installed apps (it seems there is an "Application Manager") and even found a couple of websites related to it. There's not much by the way of Apps for the device as yet - the 5800 uses S60 5th Edition and many apps either dont support it, or end up running with a virtual keyboard required on screen. By the way, Nokia REALLY need to fix their "Download!" app. This is meant to be the 5800's App Store - it allows you to download and install stuff to your phone. Unfortunately, Nokia Download! lies about prices - every single app says "Free", but when you download it, a "licensing" screen ends up asking you for money immediately. This leaves a really bad taste in your mouth and after 5 minutes, I swore off trying to use the app again until it stops scamming me into DLing "free" stuff

On the hardware side, the device is mostly really good with exceptional speakers, an accelerometer and features galore. Battery life is really good - th device lasts for days without requiring a recharge.

The touchscreen is a bit of a let down, surprisingly for a mobile which touts it as its main feature. It lacks multi-touch so pinch zoom is not an option, the touchscreen is resistive, so touch becomes more of "press". The last drawback is that for some reason Nokia chose to put a small glass behind a outer box of plastic (as in the front cover of a normal phone). The iPod Touch/iPhone on the other hand has a single undivided glass over the entire front. The join point of the glass and plastic occasionally "squeaks" when you press a button near the edges. Coupled with the resistive feature, this will definitely degrade the screen soon (but... Nokia - so you can probably just buy a replacement for the front cover for Rs. 100/- or so :)) The phone has a haptic feedback feature - it vibrates when a screen button is pressed. I suggest turn this off - it makes you press the screen even harder.

On the software side, Nokia's Ovi Suite is no iTunes - for some reason, it insisted on running 8 or so background services at install, and hung my sytem while using up 100s of MB of memory scanning my entire hard disk for media, after I explicitly said "No" to a dialog asking me if it should do that. So now that's off my PC, and I am using the device in storage mode for now. You dont actually need the Ovi Suite - you can just copy any file to the device and then work on it (install, play blah blah) using the File Manager app.

The OS seems a bit unpolished at start; although I think the key issue here is the competition. I own an iPod Touch 2G. Since I am used to the amazingly intuitive OS in that, Nokia's interface seem cludgy. I showed it to some people at my office and most people liked the OS (since they didnt have my perspective)

Once you get a bit used to the OS though, things start to fly along. My favorite feature so far - when you search for a contact, if you type D and you only have contacts with Dh di etc, the useless alphabets will disappear onscreen - amazing! Also nice - absolutely huge Answer/Reject/Loudspeaker etc buttons for calls (expected in a touchscreen I suppose) I would suggest putting in pictures for all your contacts - the device really handles them well, the way it scales and integrates them with other screen elements looks really good.

The OS also handles Wifi better. My iPod sucks itself dry in a short time if you leave WiFi on. Compared to that, I leave my 5800 to constantly scan for networks 24x7 and it seems to cause no battery degradation at all. In all fairness, when I turn on Wifi on the iPod, I actually use it - for browsing or web radio, so probably that has something to do with the battery life degradation too.

The much touted 4 input methods are good - but you will end up using only 2 - full screen QWERTY and handwriting recognition. Handwriting recognition is really good - it recognized my handwriting (ruind by years of only typing) without any training, at a comfortable pace. The only galring deficieny I have found in the OS till now is an inability to kill hung apps - you can return to the home screen, but the app will keep running. On the iPod Touch/iPhone, you can keep the Home key pressed on an app to kill it.

As noted, once the OS ramp up time is over (and there IS some), its very comfortable to use. My overall sense is that its a better OS (phone wise) than that in the iPhone, but Nokia need to get better at using a touchscreen for input. I was initially worried about future updates from Nokia for the phone's OS, but it seems they are launching more phones (including the N97) on S60 5th Ed, so that should not be a problem.

Well, thats it for now on the 5800. Its definitely a really good deal if you live in India - I bought a 5800 + a iPod Touch 2G for the cost of a 8GB iPhone. AND the phone is not locked to any carrier. Not sure how it will fare in the US with the price of the iPhone bought down to $200. I hope it does well though (better for me too!) As a phone at least, I think its better than the iPhone, but the jury is still out if you are in the market for an all-in-one multimedia device.

In other news, I got a missed call from here. Only one, on my land line, so mostly a wrong number but still the company itself is interesting :)
"Matrix Processing House "MATRIX" is the proprietory business unit of Ace Innovators Pvt. Ltd."
" Employee Credentials Check
==> Pre and Post Employment Validation Services"
Hmmm... definitely a wrong number!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Dharamsala Pix and Nokia 5800

Well I am back from Dharamsala. Pix are up, you can see them here.
I visited the Dalai Lama Monastery in McLeod Ganj and also Baijnath temple and other places near Dharamsala. Overall, it is a really beautiful place, not much to do there though - except lie around reading books :) Fortunately, Club Mahindra's library was pretty well stocked. (Also they had a projctor and organized movie shows - Ghajhini!!) One really interesting thing is what these guys do with towels - you come into your room and the towels will end up looking like flowers/cobra/monkey/elephnat. Check out the pix to see that!

I also got my Nokia 5800 today, I will write a detailed review soon. At first glace, it seems like a really amazing phone, but I am afraid it falls a bit flat when compared to the iPhone. This is mostly due to some bad UI design decisions on Nokia's part:
  1. Double clicking is required to select any item
  2. They added scroll bars, and you can only scroll using scroll bars
  3. Pinch-zoom is not available (Apple patent?)
  4. GPS doesnt seem to work in India
  5. Network connectivity (i.e. connecting to a Wifi Network) is a nightmare if you want to use static IP - the iPod Touch/iPhone can remember static IP/DHCP for each network.
Rome wasn't built in a day however :) Hopefully Nokia's firmware updates will also fix most if not all of these issue... Ciao for now :)

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year

Happy New Year everyone :) Here's to hoping this year turns out to be a good one, especially for those who faced a layoff due to the economy

I know a lot of people make New Year Resolutions and stuff, I am not much into that. I believe if you really want to change, you can do it anytime you want; Dec 31st is just another day, just like any other day. That said, this year I definitely want to learn Japanese if I get a chance - I have wanted to do that for a long time now, never got around to doing it though :)

On the gaming side, now that I have decided not to buy an XBox 360 right now I am actually buying PS3 games. I recently ordered Oblivion and, counting the 3 games I exchanged on Christmas, now have enough games to last me several months :) In other good news, Sony might have re-enabled Entropay on PSN, only thing is I don't feel like wasting $20 just to test it (if Entropay isnt allowed, I will be stuck with money in my Entropay account) Also, Entropay does have a minimum balance, so maybe PSN cards are not such a bad option after all... Also, there is now finally a game rental service available in Delhi. Its probably not for me - I game primarily on weekends (I get max 2 hrs on weekdays, if I dont have a movie to watch) and any rental service will either end up fleecing me or go nuts waiting for me to finish a game (depending the pricing scheme...)

Meanwhile things are looking bleaker for Sony, with WSJ now coming out against the the PS3 and other reports coming out against the PSP and even Blu-Ray. Whats really sad is the overwhelmingly negative opinions by the average gamer - even ones who own a PS3 (yours truly included :) ) Sony really needs to lower the PS3's price - the costs have come down, so a price cut is feasible and even required in the current economy...

Here's to hoping someone drums some sense into Sony this year... (BTW, I am getting acclimatised to Sony's antics now, so you will probably see way fewer rants from me this year)

I am off to Dharamsala, back on 5th :) Lets hope the fog lets up a bit while we are on the road. With any luck, my 5800 will be ready by the time I am back!