Sunday 27 July 2008

Stability and performance with Windows Vista

Eileen's and James' posts got me thinking about my experiences so far with Windows Vista.

I'll say straight away this is based on a very limited sample of machines so is far from scientific.  I don't know whether what I've seen will reflect many people's experience, so let me know through the comments if you agree or disagree, I'm interested to know.

I have a Sony Vaio laptop.  It came with Vista installed, and I've since upgraded to SP1. It's infuriatingly slow.  It's a lightweight laptop, so it wasn't bought for performance, but the spec isn't that bad and in theory it's more than capable of handling Vista and even Aero.  Most of what I do on this machine is through a web browser or at most some very light applications, so I'm hardly pushing it.  But it's been slow to start, slow to hibernate, slow to come back from hibernation, and sometimes the CPU goes to 100% utilisation for seemingly ages and I just have to walk away for ten minutes and let it calm down before I can even begin to get anything done.  I expect the average person who bought this laptop might tell their friends not to get one with Vista because it's rubbish.  I've heard people say similar things about machines they've bought for home with Vista pre-installed, laptop and desktop, and how they're thinking of getting their brother/friend/local IT shop to install XP instead.

On the flip side, one of my machines at work was running Vista until recently.  (We've decided as an organisation we're going to skip Vista and roll out the next version of Windows, so I couldn't really justify keeping it, and I've had to go back to our standard XP build.)  This one I'd been running since a Release Candidate version, but never got as far as installing SP1.  Performance-wise it was fine - in fact quicker to start up than my XP box (of the same spec), not noticeably different running my usual assortment of applications, and a few of the features (the new Explorer with Group By is just one example) were saving me time.  My experience of Vista in this instance was excellent.

Having worked with PCs for most of my working life, I can look a bit more objectively at the situation with my slow laptop.  These are the key differences between my Vista installations at work and at home:



Operating System OEM build, including all of Sony's 'value add' software, e.g. rubbish that makes me go to their website more often so they can try to sell me their products, trial versions of things I probably never want to buy, and customisations I hate, e.g. they hijacked my google search page to their branded one Standardised company build, where every component has been tested, performance benchmarked, optimised and locked-down so we can't break the hard work of the team who engineered it
Applications Mostly web and browser-based tools, e.g.
Firefox 3 (which I love, incidentally) with various add-ons, and other web tools like Flickr uploader, streaming media (Audible downloader, BBC iPlayer, Channel 4 On Demand), lots of which insist on launching at startup
Standard office applications.  Internally developed (and extensively tested) add-ons and tools.

I can't install additional applications without approval, so this makes me install only what's absolutely necessary.
Hardware Optimised for weight, designed for consumer market.  Plus all the various junk I might want to attach at home - maybe only once in a while, but the driver still stays installed, with all the little 'added extras' the device manufacturer packaged with it. Optimised for enterprise purchasing, i.e. consistency and stability.  Components don't change much from one model to the next to allow more consistent driver model and simpler longer-term product roadmap.

So you see where I'm going with this?

There's an old adage about builders' houses, mechanics' cars and plumbers' bathrooms... I guess it's true of IT people's PCs, at least it is of mine.  If anybody complains to me at work about not being able to install their favourite widget in our locked-down environment, I can evangelise to them until the cows come home about why it's best that way.  And what do I do at home?  Fill my PC up with crap, and complain when it runs like a dog.

On the plus side, I've learnt an important lesson.  I wanted to reinstall Vista on the laptop from a Vanilla install disk the day I got it, but I really needed to be up and running quickly and didn't have the time.  Big mistake.  The more time that passes, the more stuff I install on it, the longer it would take me to start again.  The next PC I buy will get a clean build on day one.  I've spent so much time on this machine over the months, done the usual msconfig thing, even gone through Task Scheduler to get some of the sneaky Sony system update stuff to back off to running just once a week rather than on every damn startup, and still it just doesn't run like it should.  I reckon it would take me a solid weekend to do a search-and-destroy on every bit of bloatware it shipped with.

I know I'm going to have to bite the bullet one day soon though and install from scratch... as long as there's all this OEM rubbish on here using my CPU without my permission it doesn't feel like it's mine.  And I want my laptop back.

Thursday 24 July 2008

Microsoft Office User Group for IT Pros?

Are you looking for an online community for IT Professionals who support and deploy Microsoft Office and related desktop technologies? I'm thinking of starting one, so please leave me a comment if this is something that interests you!

I've been in IT over 14 years now and I must have spent about twelve of them bitching about how little focus and recognition we get in the desktop space. No matter how extensive our expertise or what benefits we can deliver for our businesses, the plaudits mostly go to the folks who spend their lives in front of server consoles.

Since the Excel 5.0 and Word 6.0 Resource Kits (so the early-to-mid '90s) Microsoft haven't had a technical manual or training course aimed at supporting Microsoft Office. The more recent Resource Kits are mostly aimed at deployment, and while this is all necessary stuff, we're supposed to learn how each product fits together well enough to support it from whatever we can glean from the mostly sketchy information in KB articles. (The recent and mostly excellent blogs from the Office product teams are a rare exception to this, but hardly comprehensive.) As for proving our expertise... well we can get certified as an expert user, trainer or developer, but there are no certification paths for being the best-of-the-best at supporting the Office suite. No wonder most people in desktop support don't hang around long enough to become real experts.

Anyway, anyone who knows me will tell you how I hate people who moan about their lot in life but won't make an effort to try to change it, so this post is about doing something to fix the situation.

I'm thinking of setting up a user group. ('User' is already a misleading name, but that seems to be the accepted term for technical communities loosely affiliated to Microsoft and their products.) I know this isn't going to suddenly change perceptions that have been around for at least as long as I've been in IT, but joining together as a community of experts and getting back on Microsoft's radar has to be a good place to start. I haven't entirely decided on its scope but I expect it will broadly cover support and deployment of the Microsoft Office desktop products, with some related Windows and server technologies but from a desktop perspective. Supporting and deploying to large organisations is an area of particular interest to me so I hope we'll have some focus there.

If this is something you'd find useful, or better still would want to join or contribute to, please let me know through the comments.

Tuesday 22 July 2008

Dark Knight on Imax

After reading this article in Wired, I decided that I had to wait to see Dark Knight until I could get to the Imax.  Tickets are selling fast (the BFI’s site for the London Imax was giving Server Busy errors all yesterday morning), and the soonest I could get was in a couple of weeks, but it’ll be worth the wait.

If you’ve never been to an Imax and you can feasibly get to one, the diagram on page 4 of that article might help convince you to go.

Monday 21 July 2008

Useful site of the day: Index of RSS feeds for Microsoft KB updates

I tried to find this today and it isn’t easy to track down, so there’s a good chance not everyone knows about it. contains a list of RSS feeds for new KB articles by product. So if you want the latest hotfixes and ‘known issues’ delivered to your reader, this is the place to get them.

Saturday 19 July 2008

Default font changes not saving in Outlook 2007

I'm getting a problem on one of my PCs where changes I make to the default Word template used by Outlook (yes, Outlook 2007 uses Word as its mail editor) aren't always properly saved. contains a fix for a problem something like this.  The exact details of the problem that's been fixed aren't clear from the article, but I'm going to give the hotfix a try.

I'll report back and let you know if it works!

Friday 18 July 2008

TechieBird Twitters!

Since my blog posts tend to be pretty lengthy (and infrequent – sorry!) I thought microblogging might be a good idea as well.

If you’re reading this through Blogger then you’ll see my ‘tweets’ at the top of the page. Otherwise, find me at I’ll try to post updates a bit more often than I do here, and if you have a Twitter account then you’ll be able to send me replies and let me know what you think.

Creative Commons License This work by TechieBird is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.