Paul Thorrott’s All Worked Up Over Win 7 RTM

I frequent Paul Thorrott’s SuperSite for Windows for juicy tidbits on unreleased or recently released Microsoft software products. The other day, I was browsing around the Office 2010 pages, looking over the features I should be paying attention to in the 2010 Technical Preview (in which this post is authored). I came across something of a rant by Mr. Thorrott on the matter of Windows 7 RTM. A rant which I found to be quite confusing.

Paul’s main point of contention is Microsoft’s apparent purpose muddying of the waters surrounding Windows 7 RTM.

Instead, Brandon lashes out at the “rumors surrounding RTM,” repeating the Steven Sinofksy claim that …

“RTM isn’t a single point in time.”

Um, what? Releasing a product to manufacturing is very much a single point in time. If it’s not, you’re not doing it right. Life isn’t a giant flowchart for crying out loud.

RTM (Release to Manufacturing) is actually a code-branch. It also refers (obviously) to the act of releasing the finished codebase to manufacturing, for stamping and packaging. However, Brandon LeBlanc’s comment holds water – RTM development isn’t a single point in time. Perhaps this point was misinterpreted. The intended RTM build may go through several candidates. Once again, the wrap up of the RTM branch is slated for the latter half of July. If August rolls around and it hasn’t wrapped up, then start preparing for the flaming torches and pitchfork procession up Microsoft Way.

But Paul isn’t done:

But that’s not my real issue. It’s this little diatribe about leaked builds (bolded emphasis mine):

Beware of what you download. There are many bogus copies of Windows 7 floating around the Internet. More often than not, they contain a rather nice malware payload. And don’t believe everything you read on the Internet. When Windows 7 hits RTM, it will be announced here. Until that happens, any builds you are likely to see on the web are either not the final bits or are laced with malicious code.


So how will you announce RTM if it’s not a single point in time?

And how is it, exactly, that we should trust what you write if, a) we can’t trust everything on the Internet, and, b) you get so much wrong?

There are bogus copies of Windows 7, indeed packed with a nice malware payload. It’s irresponsible for Paul to intimate, with the emphasis (his, not mine) and a comment that none of the builds he’s downloaded have malware, that no build on the vast Internet has malware. The comments to his article point out that plenty of users have downloaded compromised versions.

And once again, the RTM process ends with the official RTM. So yes, it’s both a “giant flowchart” and a point in time. Jumping all over LeBlanc isn’t going to change that misinterpretation.

Recall that the technical press who attended the Windows 7 Reviewers Workshop in October was promised, explicitly by Microsoft, regular interim Windows 7 builds. We got exactly zero of those builds. So, given the veil of secrecy, we’ve been forced to download “bogus copies of Windows 7” to see how things have progressed over time.

Why did we “have” to do this? Some of us had books to complete, thank you very much. Some are press who simply believe in the whole Fourth Estate thing. I fall into both categories–ultimately, my job is to communicate what Microsoft is doing, after all–and I have personally downloaded every single leaked build that’s popped up. I have also, in fact, had access to several builds that were never leaked widely. I have never, ever–not once–gotten malware as part of any of these downloads. Not once. I’m not saying its not possible. I’m just saying it never happened. Unlike Brandon, I downloaded the builds. Because I had to. Who should you trust on this?

It’s unfortunate that Microsoft did not release interim builds for reviewers, outside of the Beta and then RC1. Whether these were the builds Microsoft was referencing or other ones that were never released, it’s quite comical to see Paul’s indignant reaction to it. Beta 1 was released January 9, RC1 on May 5, and the final RTM build will be available to MSDN and TechNet subscribers a couple weeks after the RTM announcement. That seems decently ‘regular’ to me. In fact, if the intention is to complete a book on Windows 7, it seems to me, downloading leaked, interim builds would only hurt, not help the cause. What is to say feature changes don’t make it into those builds, only to be undone or changed further in the officially released builds? While the Beta 1 and RC1 builds didn’t come with any sort of guarantee, the leaked builds were even less certain. ‘Forced’ to download leaked copies is like saying you were ‘forced’ to park in the disabled spot because there were no other spots. You just find another way.

Further, Paul says the following:

Regarding RTM, I have been told privately on more than one occasion that we can expect a few weeks of dicking around (not the official term, but, I think, more accurate) while Microsoft takes build 7600 and basically revs it based on last-minute fixes. This happens with each Windows release, of course.

Of course it happens with each Windows release, because it’s the RTM branch process. Just like there were months of ‘dicking around’ before RC1 was released. And the same before Beta 1. You get the picture. Programmers don’t individually build their pieces of code, slap it together in integration, and ship it as the final RTM build. At least, I’d hope not. I think you’d end up with something along the lines of Vista, if that were the case. Zing.

But the best part of Tom’s post, the point of it really, is that LeBlanc isn’t alone in misleading the public. Yesterday, during the WPC keynote, Microsoft senior vice president Bill Veghte neatly tap-danced around when Microsoft would RTM Windows 7. In fact, it was disappointing because he was so vague. Here’s what he said about RTM, and you can see it for yourself at 56:41 in the video (again, emphasis mine):

It is such an exciting time. This month we will release Windows 7 to manufacturing, and we write that next chapter, we go after that opportunity.

There’s just one problem. The official transcript of the speech, clearly written off the script ahead of time (or just a simple mistake, I guess; either way, it’s wrong), reads as follows:

It is such an exciting time. This morning we will release Windows 7 to manufacturing, and we write that next chapter, we go after that opportunity.

So again, I have to ask? Why are you, Microsoft, railing against bloggers when you don’t even get it right?

Because plans can’t change, right, Paul? Sure maybe the intention was to have the final RTM build ready that morning, but the likely reasoning behind the last minute change, was well, a last minute change in the code. It’ll be done this month, so don’t get your panties in a bunch yet, simply because Bill was informed of a slight change in plans. Hardly worthy of the conspiracy you’re drumming up, Paul.

Why doesn’t Ultimate get a temporary low-cost Upgrade? You screwed those customers, plain and simple. Now you’re screwing them again.

It’s a money game. Sorry, but people get screwed every day. Is it right? Probably not. But even if Microsoft were to release a cheap upgrade for Ultimate, it would still be more expensive than Professional. Perhaps they don’t see the demand for it? Who knows? As always, no good deed goes unpunished. Cheap upgrades are fantastic, yet the focus is on the one party that gets screwed. I wonder if we’d still be having this conversation if there were no cheap upgrades, period.

Why don’t you support in-place upgrades from your single biggest customer group (XP users)? You could upgrade from XP to Vista. Why are you punishing the biggest group of Windows users by making the Windows 7 “upgrade” more difficult for them? Don’t you care about your customers? You used to: You supposedly delayed Windows 98 to support in-place upgrades from Windows 3.1 over a decade ago. Remember that?

Part of the issue was probably the rash issues of upgrading XP to Vista. Drivers and applications broke left, right, and center. That was part of the issue with Vista, when drivers weren’t complete or just plain buggy. Applications from XP weren’t compatible with Vista. Upgrading to Windows 7 would be little different. Microsoft is promoting a new start with Win 7. Think of the horror stories that would pop up if XP to Win7 was allowed. Then it really would be a rehash of Vista again.

Why is Windows 7 so freaking expensive in some parts of the world, especially Europe? And don’t say VAT. That’s not it.

Why are camera lenses so expensive in Canada?!? Why is broadband so expensive in Australia? Here’s a thought – perhaps the EU’s been banging the Microsoft monopoly drum for so long, Microsoft feels it can price Windows 7 to drive some users to something else. Hey, 80% market share would still be pretty good, if it meant not getting dinged with a few billion every couple years. Please, I hope you noted the sarcasm. Come on, Paul, you don’t seriously expect us all to get on Microsoft’s case for Europe’s traditionally inflated prices for just about everything (education excluded)?

Promotional copies of Windows 7 are sold out? How can you “sell out” of a product that hasn’t been manufactured yet? Sorry, I’m calling BS on that one.

Microsoft placed a limit on the number of pre-sale copies at the promotional price. In fact, it happens quite often. Video games often have pre-sale discounts for a limited number of copies. The product isn’t sold out. By all means, buy the upgrade at the full price. In fact, buy 100. I bet they still won’t be sold out of those. Don’t sound as if you are so entitled.

Microsoft has done a much better job than Vista in opening up its development process and design methodology with Windows 7. That’s not to say they haven’t made mistakes. Oh, they have. But Paul’s diatribe seems more like someone trying to make a story of an issue that doesn’t exist. Perhaps everything’s going a bit too smoothly. There’s no controversy like with Vista to generate legitimate news these days, it seems.

Five Disappointing Minutes Reading Pat Moorhead’s Blog

Talk about sour grapes. Patrick Moorhead of AMD (VP of Advanced Marketing… perhaps that means VP of blog BS?) wrote a blog entry earlier this month on why he thinks:

…when in doubt in my opinion, if you want to do ANYTHING other than surfing basic, light websites AT HOME without the bells and whistles, go for the full-size notebook, not one of these cheap mini-notebooks. – Pat Moorhead

Ignoring that the article sounds a lot like an attempt to discourage purchases of existing netbooks (funny, AMD doesn’t seem to have an offering in this market), the comment doesn’t even make any sense. One of the main advantages of netbooks are their vastly enhanced portability over the standard full-sized notebook he compares the MSI Wind to. Indeed the links he provide as examples of alternative laptops are of the Compaq CQ50, a 15.4″ laptop, weighing almost 7lbs. The really ironic thing is even that laptop can’t get more than 2 hours of battery life while playing some videos. You read correctly; the 3 cell MSI Wind and the AMD Turion-based Compaq get about the same battery life, but with the Compaq weighing almost three time as much as the Wind, I’m pretty sure I know which I’d choose if for a portable computer. Real data’s a bitch, ain’t it?

What I am most concerned about is his generalization of the entire netbook market based on a few key points: the inability to encode/decode 720p video, screen resolution, and the poor battery life of the 3 cell Wind. I’d like to point out that the 6 cell Wind as well as the Eee 901/1000 all boast around 5 hours of battery life. The 6 cell Wind can be purchased for $550CAD.

As for the 720p issue, the 1024×600 display resolution should be a pretty good indicator that a netbook isn’t supposed to act as the center of a person’s HD world. That’s like buying a Porsche Boxster and calling it useless when you discover it can’t bring home the king-size mattress you purchased. If the main thing you’re doing on the road is working with high-def content, then no, please don’t bring a netbook; you’d be stupid to. But don’t say it’s useless for “ANYTHING other than surfing basic, light websites AT HOME” just because you bought a proverbial Porsche convertible for use as a moving truck.

I don’t have anything against these new cheap mini notebooks, but I think it is VERY important that consumers are educated to their weaknesses as well as their strengths, and all I see talked about are the strengths, a disservice to consumers in my opinion. – Pat Moorhead

Based on the points I’ve made above, I think you’ll agree with me that Patrick absolutely has something against these netbooks. His comment about the media doing a disservice to consumers is insulting. As an alternative to netbooks, he links to a full-size (15.4″, 6.6lbs) AMD-based laptop that gets the same battery life as the MSI Wind he discredits for poor autonomy. If he were really writing in the interest of helping consumers make an informed decision, he’d link to something like a Dell Inspiron 1525 with an Intel T2390, that gets over 3 hours of battery life and costs $599. Is being a corporate shill the service he’s offering? I see no mention of the weaknesses of the Compaq CQ50, specifically the battery life…

Truly a (terrible) marketer at work. Sorry Pat.

Vista Hosed Thanks to Linksys WMP300N

A wireless card should never do this to a computer.

Vista hosed due to Linksys WMP300N

Furthermore, it shouldn’t mess a computer up so badly that even Windows repair or System Restore can’t fix it. But that’s exactly what a recently-purchased Linksys WMP300N wireless card did. In fact my desktop’s Vista installation is so far gone, I have no other choice than to perform a complete re-install. I’m using my laptop currently – I’ll get around to reinstalling Vista when the new computer parts I ordered get here, but that’s another story. (Remember the downsizing post a while ago?)

Following Linksys’ recommendation, I downloaded and installed the Windows Vista driver from their website and proceeded to install it before plugging in the wireless card. At the appropriate prompt, I shut down my desktop and installed the card. Attaching the three-wire antenna was painful enough – the plugs are the screw-type and are placed so closely together that only child fingers could easily screw them on easily. That was the easy part.

Booting the computer back up, I was greeted with the Windows is installing new hardware dialog, which I assumed was the correct behavior. A few moments later, the device drivers were correctly installed. Unfortunately, at this point, explorer.exe locked up. Furthermore, attempts to ctrl+alt+del led to the entire desktop background to fade, in Vista’s “I’m no longer responding to your actions” manner. With a completely frozen system, I had no choice but to push the reset button.  What a bad idea that was.

Long story short, my registry is corrupt and System Restore wasn’t able to complete. Meanwhile, I have a non-bootable machine, thanks to this Linksys WMP300N wireless card. Reading around on the web, I can see that I’m not the only one running into problems with this card on Windows Vista. Linksys, don’t plaster a Windows Vista compatible sticker on the box if it has this many problems! I don’t know how you even managed to get those Vista drivers approved. Where is your QA department? Seriously, I was happy I got a good deal on the card, but it was definitely not worth the pain I’ll have to go through to fix my computer.

Recommendation? Don’t buy the WMP300N if you’re running Windows Vista. Not until Linksys gets its act together in any case.

What Not To Buy in 2007?

According to Mr. Ulanoff of PC Magazine, to avoid buying yourself a lemon of a ‘present’ this holiday season, you just need to follow his tips. But in reality, the things you shouldn’t buy are the points in this article. Here are some snippets from the recently published article that elicited a few chuckles from me. Let’s start if off with his advice for desktops.

Don’t buy: Any PC with integrated graphics.
I promise you that you’ll rue the day you saved $200 but did not opt for an nVidia or (ATI) AMD graphics CPU with discrete graphics memory. I contend that discrete graphics capability will speed up your gaming, browsing and video-viewing pleasure.

I contend that discrete graphics will not speed up browsing, and for most people, will not increase video-viewing pleasure. There’s a reason why the majority of computers still ship with integrated graphics – because most people need nothing more. Not everyone plays games. And if the article is to be taken at face value, integrated graphics will somehow decrease browsing and video-viewing pleasure – it won’t (short of 1080P video, but then you’ll probably be watching that through Blu-Ray/HD-DVD on your HDTV…).

Maybe buy: A mini PC.
The Apple Mini and HP Slimline are cute and fit in tight spaces, and though they don’t offer all the power I’d want, they have more than enough to satisfy most midrange users. If you’re ready for a PC in the living room, don’t want to spend more for a full-blown media center and hate the idea of a BTX-style case next to your 50-inch plasma, mini PCs could offer the perfect solution.

Funny how this follows immediately after the above do-not-buy-integrated-graphics rant, since almost all mini PCs (and ironically enough, the two named ones) are outfitted with integrated graphics. I’m also not quite certain what he means by a BTX-style case? BTX is a motherboard form factor… Alright, moving onto laptop advice.

Don’t buy: A sub-$500 laptop.
I came across a deal for a Dell Vostro for under $400. That seems like a real bargain until you try to visit a flash-driven Web site, view online video, or play even the simplest PC-based game on one.

Again, more misinformation. I don’t know whether the author actually tried this ‘$400 Vostro’, but I can assure you, it will have no problem with a flash-driven Web site, viewing online videos, or playing Solitaire (probably the simplest PC-based game?). Of course, what’s more likely the case is that he hasn’t used this $400 laptop and is just making stuff up. Just as cheap doesn’t automatically mean bad, expensive also doesn’t automatically equate to good. Don’t buy something more expensive because it is more expensive. That’s just dumb.

Maybe buy: A $400 One Laptop per Child PC (part of the “Give One Get One” program).
Yes, I know this contradicts my first point, but if your child or grandmother can live with what is essentially a toy PC, you’ll be doing a mitzvah for an underprivileged child who could never afford a PC.

If you’re in a giving mood, I think you’re better off making a nice $400 cheque out to UNICEF or another charity of your choosing. I’ll let PC Mag’s own article do all the counter-arguing that is necessary. In short form – a laptop for the internet is not terribly useful in a place where there is no Wi-Fi, no internet connection, and no schools. Plus, are you seriously going to saddle your kid or grandmother with this thing?

Do buy: Any laptop with a widescreen.
Standard 4:3 aspect ratios are yesterday’s news, and not just because it’s hard to play widescreen video on them. A widescreen gives you more screen real estate, so you can run e-mail and the AOL Instant Messenger window next to each other without hiding anything on either interface.

I’m going to nitpick, just because this guy deserves it. A 19″ 4:3 LCD typically has a native resolution of 1280×1024 while widescreen versions are 1440×900. Both yield nearly the same number of pixels; in fact the 4:3 display has slightly more. Still, he makes a good point. Widescreen monitors are a better suited for multitasking, presumably emailing and chatting at the same time (wow).

Next up, Digital Media Players.

Don’t buy: PC-less players.
These players from Haier and Slacker sound cool—there’s no PC required and music streams directly from a Wi-Fi connection—but the reality is that they’re not ready for prime time. The more content you put on Haier’s arguably innovative new player, the slower it gets. Plus, though Slacker (which works with Internet Radio stations) will work with open Wi-Fi networks, it pulls music onto the hard drive for off-line playback. So how is that so different than what you do with an iPod classic?

No PC required, but you can still use a PC with them. The more music you put on it, the slower it gets? Where did he get that from? Of course Wi-fi is going to be slower than playing straight off the hard drive, but did he forget that the Haier still has a 30GB drive for music?

Do buy: An iPod touch.
The most lust-worthy digital music player ever made simply has no equal.

He’s right – almost no other player of that capacity (8GB and 16GB) is that expensive ($299 and $399 respectively). Lust-worthy? Sure. But then I’d rather converge it all in an iPhone if the interface if what you’re after.

Don’t buy: A digital camera with less than 5 megapixels.
The deals on 7-megapixel-and-above cameras are simply too good. Obviously, 4 megapixels will print decent 4-by-5-inch photos, but 8-by-11-inch and larger images (yes, you may someday print larger ones) need more resolution. Plus you can’t zoom into detail on a 4MP image the way you can an 8MP one. You’ll be surprised at what you see when you look closely enough. (“See, Honey? I was wearing my wedding ring on that business trip.”)

It’s this sort of mentality that started the megapixel race between the digital camera makers. The result is cramming millions more pixels into the same (or smaller) sized sensors. Consequently, picture quality in point-and-shoots for the most part hasn’t gone much of anywhere over the last little while. I bet the 5MP 2/3″ sensor of my Sony F717 (from almost 5 years ago) beats the pants off 98% of the point-and-shoots today. Zooming to 100% of many of the high resolution photos taken with anything other than the lowest ISO presents a nasty mess of noise and/or noise reduction.

Don’t buy: Linux.
The world’s cheapest operating system is the darling of every do-it-yourselfer and the potential bane of every cheapskate user. You’ll save money and, I bet, lose your mind if you switch to Linux. Note to DIYers: This advice is intended for middle-of-the-road tech consumers. You, with the screwdriver in your hand, please feel free to download as many copies of Ubuntu as you want.

Even with the included post-script at the end of this ‘tip’, it’s sure to get a bunch of you Linux enthusiasts’ panties in a wad. I mean even I was a little irked at the comment. I mean, who buys Linux in the first place? 😉

Do buy: A new PC.
You won’t know how slow you’re going until you bring home a brand-new PC that’s pumped full of high-end graphics, bottomless storage, and loads of RAM. If you skimp on any of these areas, you’ll be sorry. It may not be today or tomorrow, but it’ll happen someday and likely continue for another three years, until your next PC purchase.

Again – not everyone is a video gaming, HD video-watching, multitasking geek. Average families, spend half the amount this author wants you to and still be able to do all the things you wanted, without the ‘high-end graphics, bottomless storage, and loads of RAM‘.

Well, that’s it for now. Remember, this holiday season, don’t buy into the ‘What to Buy for Christmas’ lists, but even more so, don’t buy into the ‘What Not To Buy’ lists. Thanks for reading.

Ongoing Dell Battery Situation

I’ve decided while I’m on the phone, I’m going to do a bit of live-blogging. I’ve recently run into some issues with my 6 cell battery for the XPS M1330 – it has around 15% of battery wear after only 3 months of use – two of those months were of light use. I’ve probably discharged the battery a total of 20-30 times. I’ll be trying to get a replacement.

9:35pm – I call the only technical support number listed in the Dell Canada Support site: 1-800-847-4096.

~10:00pm – I’m connected with a gentleman in the technical support team and provide my information, only to find out that I’m in the wrong department. I’m supposed to be talking with the XPS support department. I get the direct line to the XPS department for future reference, but wouldn’t it be nice of Dell to update their support site with the XPS support number instead of having me wait 25 minutes to be told that? Oh, for your info, the Dell XPS support line is 1-866-398-8977. I’m also told that it’ll be about a minute.

10:32pm – Still waiting. Music’s been looping for a while now.

10:47pm – Finally get connected and relay my information.

10:48pm – I tell the technician about the battery problem – a full charge is only up to ~85% of the design capacity in three months. Unfortunately, he insists since the Dell battery health meter is showing ‘normal’, he can’t do anything about it. First tip: redesign your battery meter to incorporate some sort of time and use relativity – 15% loss over 2 years of use may be fine, but 15% wear over 3 months of relatively light use is excessive. Obviously my explanation that the battery going from 20% charge down to 6% charge instantly, skipping everything in between isn’t enough. Nor is the full charge capacity number versus the design capacity number.

10:53pm – I ask for a transfer to someone with a bit more knowledge and someone who can help me with my problem. I’m being transferred. On hold again.

11:00pm – Okay, I thought I was being transferred, but the guy came back on the line and told me he’s just transferring me now.

11:11pm – While waiting, here’s an interesting technical support idea. Have two tiers, one for the normal user and another one for more knowledgeable and technically-oriented users. Have a few ‘skill-testing’ questions to make sure the caller does know his stuff if he requests the advanced line. It would save a lot of grief, skipping all the scripted lines. I mean I’m practically doing their work for them by having pre-diagnosed the issue.

11:20pm – I get another technician. Oh wait, it isn’t. It’s the same one as before. I can’t fucking believe this. I explicitly ask for supervisor this time. I didn’t think I’d need to state that explicitly. If he couldn’t help me, what makes him think the guy sitting next to him could…?

11:29pm – I get the same tech back again because the queue for the supervisor is very busy, but luckily, he consulted the supervisor and offered me a replacement battery. Case closed.

The whole experience was close to a nightmare, interspersed with some sad comedy – for example being transferred back to the same person. Oh well.