If you are continuing to use Windows XP like a goodly number of people are, and you need a new hard drive after Jan. 2011, you may run into some new issues.

According to the BBC, all hard drive manufacturers have agreed to change how their devices store information effective with January of next year.  Under the old method, hard drives store data in blocks that are 512 bytes in size.  This was dune to work with floppy drives, and it stayed with the storage industry until now.  Under the new architecture, blocks will be increased to 4K in size, or nearly eight times the old size.  This is expected to make hard drives 7 – 11% more efficient than the current drives.

The problem is that Windows XP, despite its age, is still a very prevalent operating system, and it has no clue how to handle blocks of that size.  Mac OS X (Tiger, Leopard and Snow Leopard versions) Windows Vista, Windows 7, and versions of the Linux kernel released after September 2009 are all able to handle the new file format.

A workaround has been designed to trick the hard drive into working with Windows XP, but it could result in reduced speed performance of as much as ten percent.  So, it will work, just not at peak performance.

In short, if you feel like you may need a new hard drive, do it before the end of this year so you can get one of the old style drives.


microsoftI hate being right some days, but this isn’t one of them. I’m loving being right this time.

The other day I wrote up a post here about Windows Systems Suffering Black Screens After Security Update, and I stated:

What seems odd about this whole report is that the supposed guilty security update was sent out Nov. 10th, but the first reports came in last week from a security firm named Prevx.  Prevx says they have a tool that will fix some instances for users, and at this point Microsoft is simply stating that they are investigating the situation and have no official word on it.

The reason I find this whole thing a bit questionable is how as someone plugged in to the technology world such as I am heard no complaints prior to a third-party company I’ve never heard of suddenly saying they know how to fix it.  True its solution is being provided for free, but the amount of publicity more than makes up for it.  I have heard no independent verifications of something being wrong with the update, and believe me, something like this happens, you’d hear all about it on Twitter.

There is every chance this problem is real, but it does seem a tad odd at the moment.

Well, according to Ed Bott at ZDNet, I was right to say it smelled fishy because it was.

… on Tuesday evening, Prevx backs down completely from the story, publishing a formal retraction and apologizing to Microsoft. Another follow-up post the next day from Prevx CEO and CTO Mel Morris tries to deny any responsibility for the damage. He includes this hilarious bit of understatement: “Regrettably, it is clear that our original blog post has been taken out of context and may have caused an inconvenience for Microsoft.”

What a shock.

What was disturbing about this whole thing (and according to Steven Hodson at Shooting at Bubbles, I deserve the right to pat myself on the back for this one), I was one of the very few tech journalists who called it suspicious.  As Mr. Bott chronicles the whole debacle in his post, he points out time and time again how all of the major tech blogs went nuts reporting it, but yet no one seemed to question it or research it.

While I did look around unofficially online, I admit I did not contact Microsoft.  Why?  Because I fully admit I knew I would get an empty answer with no substance to it, and lets face it, StarterTech isn’t exactly a leading tech blog like the big boys.  If they weren’t getting quotes, neither was I.

What I did do was to use this amazing resource called “the Internet”, perhaps you’ve heard of it?  We are sitting on top of the most powerful research tool ever invented and apparently most bloggers couldn’t be bothered to head to a search engine and do some basic research.  Where were the cries of outrage from users?  Why wasn’t this a trending topic on Twitter?  Where were the Apple Fanboys crowing over their superiority?  Instead what I found was tech blogs writing the same headlines over and over with nary a question in sight as to why we were the only ones talking about it.  Would it have really been that difficult to do a search and go, “Wait a minute … something doesn’t smell right here …”

If the Internet has proven anything, it is that people will not hesitate to complain about the smallest irritation.  Do you really think if black screens had been happening the entire Internet would have been silent about it?  Of course it wouldn’t have been.

So, yes, for once I am going to pat myself on the back for calling this into question from the start, and I echo Mr. Bott’s questioning of the tech blogosphere at large.

At the same time, I join with Mr. Bott for calling for Prevx to be laughed out of the security field.  Honestly, I’d go even further and wonder when the lawsuits will start.  Was this a marketing gimmick?  If so, good job, you’re going to get more press coverage than you know what to do with … and none of it is going to be good.

Categories: Microsoft, Opinion, Windows 7, Windows XP   

microsoftIf you’re suffering the black screen update problem that is reportedly striking some Windows systems … you probably aren’t reading this.

Kidding aside, reports have come in that some Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7 systems are suffering “black screens of death” for some reason after the latest Windows security update.  Here is the explanation from PCWorld:

Microsoft apparently made changes to the Access Control List (ACL), a list of permissions for a logged-on user. The ACL interacts with registry keys, creating visible desktop features such as a sidebar.

However, the latest patches appear to make some changes to those registry keys. The effect is that some installed applications aren’t aware of the changes and don’t run properly, causing a black screen…

In short: your system may be messed up.

What seems odd about this whole report is that the supposed guilty security update was sent out Nov. 10th, but the first reports came in last week from a security firm named Prevx.  Prevx says they have a tool that will fix some instances for users, and at this point Microsoft is simply stating that they are investigating the situation and have no official word on it.

The reason I find this whole thing a bit questionable is how as someone plugged in to the technology world such as I am heard no complaints prior to a third-party company I’ve never heard of suddenly saying they know how to fix it.  True its solution is being provided for free, but the amount of publicity more than makes up for it.  I have heard no independent verifications of something being wrong with the update, and believe me, something like this happens, you’d hear all about it on Twitter.

There is every chance this problem is real, but it does seem a tad odd at the moment.

Categories: Microsoft, Opinion, Windows 7, Windows XP   

windows 7If you are one of the hundreds of millions of users of Windows XP users in the world, you might want to think twice before even pondering the idea of upgrading to Windows 7.

Walt Mossberg, the man behind the All Things D column at The Wall Street Journal, released a video about the pain Windows XP users will suffer when trying to upgrade their current computers to Windows 7.  The bottom line?  Buy a new computer.

While Windows Vista users will probably have a painless upgrade experience (about the only painless experience Vista users have ever had), Windows XP users have no direct route to doing so, and the only workarounds involve a ton of work.  Feel like wiping your entire hard drive and having to reinstall every program?  Yeah, that kind of painful.

Basically there is no official support for XP users to upgrade, but it is possible.  Mr. Mossberg goes in to far greater detail in the video below, but at the end of it you will just be saying, “… I think I’ll just buy a new one instead…”

Categories: Windows 7, Windows XP   

windows 7It seems some people at Microsoft are starting to get the idea that Vista was a bad idea.

Okay, it’s not quite that dramatic, but, according to Computer World,  Bill Veghte, Microsoft’s senior vice president for Windows business, made a keynote speech this week, and said the following.

If you’re just starting your testing of Vista, with the [Windows 7] Release Candidate and the quality of that offering, I would switch over and do your testing on the [Windows 7] Release Candidate, and use that going forward.

Well, yes, if your company is just starting to test Vista, then you need to pick up a technical journal once in a while and realize that Windows 7 is in heavy testing at this stage.  The new version is expected to make it into consumer level PCs this fall, so enterprise desployment would probably start in late 2010 or early 2011, and with Windows XP support having been extended to April 2014, this would give them plenty of time to do a full roll out in a company.

However, there is one small problem with this entire idea in that apparently you can not upgrade directly from Windows XP to Windows 7.  The upgrade appears to only work from Windows Vista to Windows 7, so companies that are still filled with Windows XP machines… good luck on figuring out that workaround.  I would imagine they can just wipe the systems and start over, but then you have questions about hardware configurations.

This is where my personal gripe with the whole Microsoft plan comes in.  There is a reason Apple just keeps extending Mac OS X: it works.  The same could be said for Windows XP, even with its numerous bugs, those could have been ironed out and they could have sold incremental updates, just like Apple has done with great success.  However, Microsoft doesn’t always like to make sense it would seem.  Why sell just a small update when you can sell a whole new operating system and cause headaches for consumers at all levels?  Yeah, that’s some bright thinking there!

As much as I don’t want to hate Microsoft, they just keep doing stupid thing after stupid thing.  Yes, Windows 7 may be more stable than Vista, but isn’t that kind of like saying “Well this boat leaks… less.  It still leaks, just… less.”

Any way you slice it, all PC users will eventually be forced into Windows 7, just some of us will have been lucky enough to have skipped Vista.

Categories: Windows 7, Windows XP   

windows 7The Windows 7 release candidate is now available for immediate download.

Putting out a release candidate is one of the last stages before a program is officially put into the marketplace, and that is exactly where Windows 7 is at this moment.  As of today you can download Windows 7 Release Candidate (presumably #1), and you’ll be able to use it free of charge up until June 1st, 2010.  However, there is a catch to that 13 months of free Windows; starting on March 1st, 2010, your system will shut down every two hours to remind you that you are still using a release candidate copy.

Oh well, still 10 months of free Windows isn’t too shabby.

The download page lists some other caveats and suggestions for you keep in mind before you go crazy with your Windows 7 upgrading.  (following list courtesy of Microsoft)

  • You don’t need to rush to get the RC. The RC will be available at least through July 2009 and we’re not limiting the number of product keys, so you have plenty of time.
  • Watch the calendar. The RC will expire on June 1, 2010. Starting on March 1, 2010, your PC will begin shutting down every two hours. Windows will notify you two weeks before the bi-hourly shutdowns start. To avoid interruption, you’ll need to install a non-expired version of Windows before March 1, 2010. You’ll also need to install the programs and data that you want to use. (Learn more about installing Windows.)
  • Protect your PC and data. Be sure to back up your data and please don’t test the RC on your primary home or business PC.
  • Tech details/updates: Before installing the RC, please read the Release Notes and Things to Know for important information about the release.
  • Keep up with the news. You can keep up with general technical information and news by following the team blog. And, you can get non-technical news, tips, and offers by subscribing to the monthly Exploring Windows newsletter.
  • Keep your PC updated: Be sure to turn on automatic updates in Windows Update in case we publish updates for the RC.
  • Installation: You can install the Windows 7 RC on a PC running Windows Vista without backing up the PC—but we encourage you to make a backup for safe keeping. If you’re running Windows XP or the Windows 7 Beta, you’ll need to backup your data, then do a clean installation of the RC, then reinstall your applications and restore your data. If you need to do a backup, please see How to back up your PC for more details and a suggestion for how to backup a PC running Windows 7 Beta or Windows Vista.

All good suggestions, and please pay close attention to the one about not putting this on your primary machine!  This is still not a final release, and you WILL encounter bugs.

This all just makes me think even more within a few years people will go, “There was a Windows version called ‘Vista’?  Huh… never heard of it.”

Categories: Windows 7, Windows XP   

windows 7In quite possibly one of the biggest “mea culpas’ in the history of Microsoft, Windows 7 will be able to run Windows XP software.

One of the biggest original complaints about Windows Vista was its inability to run a lot of business applications. This was a problem that persisted, and kept many small businesses from wanting to make the switch as it would mean all new software, some of it being expensive custom designed jobs.  Now in an announcement on the Windows Blog, we come to find out this issue is getting addressed in Windows 7 in the hopes that small businesses will finally come back to the fold.

All you need to do is to install suitable applications directly in Windows XP Mode which is a virtual Windows XP environment running under Windows Virtual PC. The applications will be published to the Windows 7 desktop and then you can run them directly from Windows 7.

Now, virtual operating system environments habe known to be unstable, and seeing as how no one outside of Microsoft hasn’t seen this yet, no one knows if this will be the case with the Windows 7 environment.  It is also only going to be a feature in Windows 7 Professional and Windows 7 Ultimate, meaning the higer priced versions of the program.

Sure, this isn’t a perfect solution, but it is sure a lot better than what we had under Vista, which was nothing.  This new feature should appear in the upcoming release candidate due next week, so reports are sure to be coming in fast and furious on how well it actually works.

Categories: News, Windows 7, Windows XP   

Windows XPWindows XP’s death is drawing ever closer.

Effective today, Windows XP is no longer supported by “Mainstream Support”, and will only be covered by “Extended Support”.  All of this was announced in an email that came out on Monday.

On April 14, Windows XP will transition from the mainstream support phase to the extended support phase, as planned and previously announced.

Normally Mainstream Support only lasts for 5 years, but Windows XP was extended to 7 & 1/2 years due to the delay in release of Windows Vista. Extended Support means that everyone will have to pay for support from here on out unless they bought an extended service plan. This also means that Microsoft will only release security patches from here on out, and those will also come to an end on April 8, 2014.

In an odd move, the Windows XP “Downgrade” program which allows users to install XP if they have bought a copy of Vista, will last now until April 30th, 2010. If Windows 7 releases in the fall like everyone suspects, that means XP will still be ciculating even after it has released.  

At this point it is almost becomng funny how this operating system will just not fade away.

Categories: Windows 7, Windows XP   

windows 7Rumors have begun to circulate that the first release candidate of Windows 7 may be appearing on April 10th.

According to Ars Technica, rumors have begun to spring up that Microsoft may be readying the first release candidate (RC1) version of Windows 7 for mass consumption on April 10th of this year.  For those who are not familiar with the steps a piece of software goes through prior to release it goes as follows:

  • Alpha – This version is usually only for internal testing, and is rarely released to the public.
  • Beta – This is a version that is getting close to having all of the final features, and, depending on the company, is released to some testers in the public for them to test.  There can be numerous Beta releases as small tweaks are made to the software.
  • Release Candidate – This usually consists of two versions, RC1 and RC2.  RC1 will have included notes from the beta testers, and further notes from RC1 users will be incorporated into RC2.  There isn’t always an RC2, but it is fairly common.
  • Gold Master – This is the finalized version of the software that will be released to the public.

If the RC1 is truly going to be released by April, this adds heavily to the other rumors we’ve heard that Windows 7 may be out by this fall.  This really gives us pause here at StarterTech that Windows 7 will be more like what Windows Vista was really supposed to be.  The time lapse between Windows XP and Windows Vista was five years, but this will be only two years between Vista and Windows 7.  This is beginning to feel more and more like Vista was a massive release candidate, or even a beta, for Windows 7.

Whatever the case may be, we highly recommend you hold off on all Windows-based computer purchases for the time being if at all possible.  Vista is flawed, as is well documented all across the Web, and while Windows 7 may not be perfect, it is already looking to be an improvement.  If you can wait, we suggest it so that you aren’t essentially buying an already outdated piece of software that is flawed to boot.

Categories: Windows 7, Windows XP   

Windows XPWhile you can no longer buy a PC with Windows XP pre-installed, there are still ways for you to get it… but only until July 31, 2009.

Due to a clause in the Windows Vista legal rules, if you buy certain levels of the Vista operating system, you can legally downgrade to Windows XP.  (In this case, it might be considered an upgrade…)  This deal was originally meant to expire on January 31st, 2009, but due to demand from manufacturers, it has now been extended to July 31st of next year.

The best case scenario for doing this is having the manufacturer do it before you receive the computer to save yourself the hassle.  Most companies do offer this service, but only on select models and levels of the Vista OS.  Make sure to read the description of any system you are ordering, and also make sure it is one they offer XP on.

Categories: Windows XP   
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