Browsed by
Month: January 2007

We are always in relationship

We are always in relationship

I had a friend ask when it’s OK to sever a relationship – if there is a priority or hierarchy we need to follow when building our relationships and when we cut them off. They had came up with a list of ‘inviolable offenses’, and challenged others to do the same. Here was my response:

This is an interesting view.  Personally, I look at this very differently. I would say we never really sacrifice relationships. Instead, whether we like it or not, we are always in relationship with each other.

I would classify relationships as an always present reality with two axes. One axis is the amount of physical interaction/contact with the person (letters/phone/in person/etc). The second axis is the interpersonal boundaries we have in that relationship – such as emotional, physical, spiritual boundaries. We modulate our relationships with others by moving back and forth on those axes, but there is always relationship.  Certainly as finite beings with a finite life we cannot exercise even 1 millionth of the possible relationships we could have in this world.  It does, however, mean we are in a relationship with the traffic cop, the garbage man, the people that utilize the work we do, and so forth. We might only have the most minimal ‘setting’ on both our relational axes, but it’s still there.  As proof, one notes that even in the most mundane interacting with a traffic cop – which might only last half a second and there are no words spoken – we still have boundaries, shared goals, communication (verbal and nonverbal), etc.  On the other end of the spectrum we are in very deep relationships with family, spouses, children, and God.

You can even have relationship if one of the axes is set completely to zero as in the case when we choose to stop physically seeing/speaking with someone.  As in the case of alcoholics or others that need help, one might indeed be using the cutting of physical interaction as a communication device to help the other towards really loving (though that’s not always the real spirit its done in and this method should only be used after everything else has failed).  In this way, you’re not so much ‘cutting off’ a relationship as communicating to the person your boundaries or approval/disapproval.

While this is a really cursory explanation, for me, we are all one large family in this world with relationships always ready to spring up – with one father/parent/God in heaven that we all share.  I try to remind myself at each moment to look at everyone I meet as a distant relative. I certainly have a lot of estranged aunts, crazy bachelor uncles, and second-cousin’s one-hundred-times-removed.  When looking at the people on the street, in shops, in cars next to me, in the pew in front, at work, or in the old folks home as family with which I’ve only begun my relationship with (and *will* be spend eternity together with a large collection of them), things become much different when looking at the world.

The snow and driving in Oregon

The snow and driving in Oregon

We got snow here in Portland last week – first in several years – which made me happy. Got a few inches – nothing anyone from the Midwest would fear. I ran a few errands before everyone got out and went home to sit it out. Sit it out? Why would you do that? An inch or two of snow? What a wuss. Well, this will explain why. This was filmed about 5-10 blocks from my house just last week:

The ‘best’ one was about 40 seconds in.  As a whole, Portland has by far some of the worst drivers I’ve ever seen. I’ll include all of Oregon by extension. They can’t drive in snow and they can’t drive in rain either.

My personal favorite drivers are the ones that buy expensive Audi’s, Subaru’s, luxury SUV’s with AWD then go out into the snow feeling like kings of the world because ‘Hey man I got AWD!”. They then zip along at dry pavement speeds but don’t realize that when it comes to braking – they have the same braking ability as other cars on ice.  None.  If the surface conditions deteriorate, that heavy car actually makes the distance increase 2, 4 and 10 fold faster than you can say slip-n-slide.

Still, it was entertaining (and terrifying) to watch the many Jeeps, Range Rovers, and expensive cars I saw flying sideways through red light intersections because they didn’t realize AWD doesn’t they physics of braking distance on snow.

More fun was watching them slide for hundreds of feet with their wheels locked and pointing anywhere but into the skid.  I was skeptical of anti-lock brakes at first, but after experiencing the ability to steer while braking into a skid they sold me instantly. Our locked up friends, however, slid for dozens of feet without steering or letting go of the death-hold they had on the brake pedal which left them bouncing off poles and other cars in sadly comical fashion. I would laugh it off if it wasn’t for the fact each smash reminded me that we all pay for this in higher car insurance rates and they might have killed someone.  I went home and moved my car away from intersections and off the downhill sides of streets so they wouldn’t smash my parked car.

You’d also think Portlanders could drive in rain – but you’d again be wrong. The chronic tailgating out here turns roads into a game of bumper-cars after the first rain after the summer because they forget that roads build up oils and residue when it doesn’t rain for a while.

Another fun Portland driving past-time is what I call deadly politeness.  These drivers are so over-cautious and over-polite they actually cause dangerous road conditions.  A prime example is the inability to merge into traffic any faster than 35mph. These guys will slow down at the top of merge ramps so they can look all around and merge into traffic.  Result – the on-ramp backs up, the traffic they are merging into has to slam on the brakes or swerve to change lanes at the last second to avoid hitting these fools who are daintily trying to merge into 55mph traffic at 35mph. You can only imagine what the results look like at the top of each ramp. I saw a semi nearly jackknife and then rightly laid on the horn and gave the car driver an over-generous rating of one finger up when he tried to merge into 65mph traffic at 35-40mph.  I know because I was stuck behind said car driver on the on-ramp and got ready to tell the officer the guy in the car was 100% to blame. He just popped over in front of the semi on the top of the ramp.  “But officer, I signaled” would have been his claim – if they found all his pieces.

State of sound in Vista

State of sound in Vista

If you want to see what the progress is like for Vista drivers for Creative Labs audio/cameras/etc, here’s the link. Not too promising.

On a bright note, Intel just released good drivers for it’s built-in sigma audio cards which are used on a fair number of it’s motherboards. You get 5.1 surround but absolutely no bells or whistles at this point. Stuff like EAX and other features are not supported on the creative or sigma drivers. Seems this is hard to do for some reason.

Vista review Part 3 – The Ugly

Vista review Part 3 – The Ugly

Now for the final installation of my review of Vista:

3. Il Cattivo (The Ugly):

While security is something that needs integration into the operating system to be effective, the way it is done in Vista just isn’t the way to expose it to the average user.

The story so far on Windows platforms is that there is a sad proliferation of intrusive 3rd party apps that monitor your computer and “protect it” – usually by at best just halving the performance and often making your system as stable and fun to use as a 1-legged milking stool. In Vista, when trying to run programs, change settings, install apps, etc – you get change constant, intrusive permission dialogs.  One after another. So many that during an app install you might click on more security dialogs than on the install dialogs themselves. Microsoft definitely went too far on the ‘more is better’ approach. Why? Not because the dialogs are wrong about things you’re doing could be dangerous, but because the psychological effect it creates completely defeats the protection.

I did some tests with known virus/bot programs and they would catch them trying to install weird services, opening ports – and Vista appropriately opened a dialog to tell you this was happening. In fact, I discovered a shareware app I had occasionally used was infected because it tried to install a service and I found out it carried a bot backdoor. Even though each dialog is correct in indicating the action could be about to let an attack in, these dialogs come up so often and for some of the most minor actions, it is clear that people will simply just start clicking ok by default. I found myself doing that after a week of use.What’s the point of putting this level of security granularity into an operating system if the psychological effect it has is just to turn you into little less than a monkey pounding ‘ok’ all the time?

This model of security is broken because it breaks the flow of using/getting real work done on the computer.  The average user just won’t know why they should say no to any dialog.  That’s the worst part – that it’s functionally broken because it doesn’t even provide you with the information you need to really answer the question.

All is not lost, this system could be salvaged because it gives you something you didn’t have under XP – programmatic triggering and control on these dangerous events. This system should be like an exception handler. When these warnings are triggered, they should go to a threat manager that can be updated from an online database of known good/bad events which then decides and logs what decisions were/should be made and backs up the state that was changed. That way when you find out that something screwed up your system, you could scan the log and it could be backed out safely. I’ve already mentioned that Vista has a really good system of logging installations and making checkpoints for restoring a previous working/uninfected version. This manager system would work because you often just don’t always know if something is a virus or not until you’ve already installed it, especially with programs you’ve just never used before.

Instead, when you get the cryptic warning that something or the other is getting installed I found you still sit there for a while sweatily trying to decide if you want to take the ‘risk’ or not – with no extra information than that some service is getting installed or permission is changing. Can I update csrr.sys? I don’t know! How can I know? Where do I find out if that’s ok?  The average user won’t even know where to begin to look to make sense of these messages.  In the end, it’s still the same old crap-shoot like before when you decide to risk the unknown or not.  Now you just click on 50 security dialogs before you make that same jump into the dark.

Instead, you should only get dialogs when the manager doesn’t know what to do, allow you to mark the transaction as possibly dangerous, and then recording exactly what was done so it can be easily backed out later when you unwittingly find your computer transferring files to China or sending out Viagra emails. Even better, those changes should be reported/logged at the end of each install: such as this port was opened, this service was installed, etc, so you can later figure out which installer was the offender. (I do give kudos to Microsoft for their boot-time loading manager that tells you all the services/apps/drivers that are being loaded at boot time. Time will tell if they really catch everything in the nightmare flow that is a standard windows boot process.)

Our hypothetical manager should be smart enough and be able to get online updates that tell it that half-life regularly opens port 27015 for online games (and suppresses that as a low-risk item) but if the half-life executable tries to open port 31373 for all incoming/outgoing traffic then it’s probably an infecting Trojan. Unfortunately, you just get told the app is trying to open a port – yes/no? You aren’t told exactly what port is being opened. I could go to a website to read up on whether half-life opens ports and which ones – but the security dialog has blocked opening your web browser. I look it up on another machine and find that ports 27015 and 27016 are ok, but the Vista warning dialog doesn’t tell you which port is being talked to. So, your machine is held hostage till you click Yes or no.

Despite my complaints, I’m totally sold on Vista. After playing with it for about a week, I knew I wouldn’t go back to installing XP Pro – which I was content with already. The visual facelift was very nice and usability much improved. It’s taken some big leaps to re-engage itself. Is it groundbreaking paradigm shift? Naw. But I’m very pleased with Vista – expect me to buy an upgrade copy.

Vista review – Day 2 – The Bad

Vista review – Day 2 – The Bad

Continuing from last time, here’s part 2 – The Bad – of 3 on the Vista review. Tomorrow is Part 3: The Ugly.  However, I did forget one extra ‘The Good’ about Vista from last time:
System Restore Points and Automated recovery
Most of the time I’m never impressed by these tools. They only partially work on most systems and often only succeed in taking up lots of disk space, slowing down the system, and delivering random results. Going back to a restore point is often just as big a gamble of it working as is just uninstalling stuff back to that point by hand. But Vista’s restore point system works. Yes, it has in fact saved me from re-installing the OS twice now. It makes transparent restore points after every software install, and restores system files. I installed a beta graphics driver that just went all wrong for some reason. The system wouldn’t even boot up anymore (well, booted up to a black screen and I couldn’t see anything).  I tried the uninstaller in safe mode at which time I found that beta drivers uninstall features are often more buggy than the driver itself. I booted from the Vista install CD and it started an automatic error detection. It detected the error as a faulty video driver and backed up to the previous restore point made automatically before the driver was installed. Took about 30-45 minutes total – but it worked flawlessly and the system was solid as a rock afterwards. I wasn’t able to get all the burrowed tidbits of the faulty driver out in safe mode which meant I normally I would have had to re-install the OS.  But the automated recovery worked, and worked really well. The only sad part is that you need this feature at all.  If things actually worked properly – this would be unnecessary.  But this is a great feature that’s already paid for itself twice for me. OK, now for today’s review installation:

Day 2: Il Brutto (the Bad)

Driver support and Protected Content Playback
Ah, the most important topic for those of you who just got new hardware for Christmas. You’re not going to like what I have to say now that you have that new $100 sound card or possibly that new flat panel display. Driver support is WOEFUL behind – less than one month from ship and there isn’t more than one or two major vendors who have anything but beta drivers available. And nobody has full video card drivers ready. These aren’t strange, out of the ordinary hardware manufacturers either. This is ATI, nVidia, Creative Labs, Intel, etc. Vista comes with a good collection of drivers built in but most of them only control the most basic features of your hardware. To get the full functionality of your $100 sound card’s features, you need the vendor’s drivers; and those vendors, at best, have only partially functioning beta drivers out. Most of there drivers are pretty good and totally usable to get the basic hardware functionality (you get video, you get sound), but if you have anything made by any non-leading 3rd party hardware maker or want all your bells and whistles, I’m going to bet money you’re in deep trouble for now.

My advice: don’t buy any new hardware until after Vista comes out. I only invested in a few hard drives to set up a raid, a new processor, motherboard, and memory with my Intel employee discount. But don’t buy a new video card, flat-panel, sound-card or other media device until well after Vista comes out and the driver picture becomes clear. Why?  It is just not worth it to commodity parts makers to go back to spend a lot of money on software development to make Vista drivers for their old hardware that they sold for a $2 margin in the first place. Creative Labs has already stated they aren’t going to back-port many old sound card drivers.  If you have commodity 3rd party hardware it is extremely doubtful you will find Vista drivers for your hardware. The business model will probably be to just sell them new card with the new drivers. How this pans out has yet to be seen, but that will be my bet based on the fact very few companies even have the word Vista mentioned on their main pages, let alone on their driver download pages.

The other serious problem is protected content playback. These are new paths that both graphics and sound hardware along with their software stacks and drivers must support. If the hardware was designed without protected playback capabilities, you’re probably going to have to buy new hardware or go without features. Microsoft seems to be favoring functionality over strict adherence more and more as we get closer to ship (thankfully), but many companies are just about flat-out saying that they will not go back and make Vista drivers for their old hardware – often for hardware selling right now.  So don’t get all excited about all those hardware price drops you see advertised – they might be coming with planned insolence. They seem to think it’s better to dump them now for a big discount than get $0 for them in a month.

For some hardware, backwards compatibility isn’t so difficult a hurdle.  Many XP drivers install just fine on Vista.  Drivers also have a compatibility mode just like programs, so a lot of old drivers will work. I have a cheap Airlink network card that the XP drivers worked just fine (almost better in fact) on Vista. But for video and sound, your life is going to get very difficult. Just expect to have to buy new hardware if you want all the bells and whistles back. Go to most Vista forums and just look at all the fighting people are doing to just get sound cards working in stereo, let alone surround sound. The only companies that I can find that has 5.1 surround sound working on Vista is some Creative sound cards via their beta drivers and some of Intel’s motherboards made in the last 6-8 months. Both, however, indicate digital out won’t be supported anytime soon. Alas, you can also forget about EAX, sound expansion, balancing independent speakers, or any other nicer features. Nobody has anything even close to working.

I had to go out and pick up a $29 Creative Audigy 24 card just to get any sound out of my system.  I did find it’s 5.1 surround sound support is very nice for movies and works in Half-life 2 (I do like Vista’s new surround speaker control/testing control panel unit).  The beta driver for the Intel motherboard audio card initially spit out crackly, screechy noises that coincide with when music or system sounds. They just a week or so ago released new drivers that do give 5.1, but it’s still very beta feeling with no independent speaker controls or sound expansion/digital out support. Vista’s built-in driver for that card only gives you stereo out. The card is some strange re-brand by some company in Korea and I found myself comparing chipset numbers on their overseas website to the numbers on the motherboard chip to figure out what was onboard. Then I ran driver installs in compatibility mode after downloading the latest XP drivers from Korean ftp servers with the hope they might work. Who the heck wants that hassle (especially since it didn’t work anyway)? On the bright side, Intel’s website seems to have new Vista drivers for it’s motherboard components coming out every week and everything but my integrated sound has a Vista driver. Long story short: Video and Sound are going to be very problematic on Vista for the near term and you absolutely should wait before buying new hardware for those components.
As for video, another sore point is that I can’t use the HDMI plugs on my ATI x1900GT video card – too bad my video card only has HDMI outputs. I plug into a really nice older Trinitron 22″ CRT (it has VGA inputs only) via a HDMI to VGA cable. Near as I can tell, the HDMI plug tells the driver to signal the monitor to return protected playback support, and obviously doesn’t get it from this pre-HDMI monitor. The result? After the Vista loader bar appears during bootup – you get a blank screen. The OS runs fine and you can reboot by remember the right key combinations; but no video. Instead, I have to use the 5 cent HDMI to SVGA plug adapter so it doesn’t try to key off the protected content signal line and the first boot or two after installing the video driver I need to turn the monitor off while it booted. Why? I’m guessing that since my monitor doesn’t support digital protected playback signaling, I need the video card to switch to ‘analog output’ mode. In order to switch to analog mode it needs the monitor off so it isn’t signaling the card it’s got HDMI plugged in (since I don’t have a separate VGA out). So, I can use the 5 cent adapter and turn off my monitor on the first few boots until it remembers to boot in analog mode or buy a new monitor.

I don’t blame Microsoft per-se.  DRM got pushed on them too; but this just sucks. I feel very bad for anyone getting a cheap flat-panel with only HDMI inputs this Christmas – I’m guessing they are flipping a coin if you’re going to have to get a different flatpanel since a lot of cheap panels probably don’t signal protected playback correctly or Vista doesn’t have a protected playback feed for it. In analog mode, I can play back my DVD’s just fine – but when HD-DVD playback comes, it might get interesting (yet again).

All my networking devices ran with their XP drivers flawlessly. The Intel RAID controller software/drivers for Vista are *very* good. The SATA driver informed me of non-data corrupting SMART errors being generated by one of the SATA drives in my RAID.  I didn’t notice any wired behavior at all.  It told me which drive (serial number) was throwing the errors and it’s severity. SMART reporting is a newer feature of SATA drives. I pulled the drive to find it twice as hot as the other drives, sent it in for repair (thank you 5 year Seagate warranty). When the replacement arrived, I plugged it in. After I added the drive back to the logical raid set, the easy to use volume manager automatically started rebuilding the volume redundancy (I am running RAID 5).  Meanwhile – the system was completely usable! I was watching a movie at the same time, and 2 and a half hours later it was done without a single hiccup, reboot, or visible performance degradation. Wow. Flawless operation. I give super-high marks for Intel’s raid controllers and the drivers that come with them – and that’s not just because I work for them.

Device software – get ready to buy new versions
Wonder why right now you can actually pick up McAfee, most virus scanners, and Zonelabs excellent firewalls for free after rebates right now?  Because they are dumping them.  Unfortunately all the firewalls, and (outside of AVG) all virus scanners don’t even INSTALL on Vista.  Personally, I hate the performance hits and instability of integrated virus scanners, but they are a necessary evil.   For laptops where you don’t want to drag around a hardware firewall, Zonelabs makes a great software firewall which works great in free wi-fi computing environments like coffee houses.

Most likely you’ve read the fights and threatened lawsuits McAfee is having with Microsoft.  Personally, I don’t buy McAfee’s argument they have any ‘right’ to source and integration with Microsoft’s kernel.  I’m sorry, but you don’t and you’re starting to sound like the kid on the playground demanding ‘a right’ to be picked first for the team when he isn’t better than anyone else. Anybody remember when virus scanners were just that – scanning programs you ran when you wanted?  Now they try to be the operating system and (as Jessie Ventura would say) burrow in like an Alabama tick.  I’ve personally had to reinstall the OS on a number of my friends’ machines because Norton AVG or the like has completely foo-bared a machine to where even safe mode won’t work.  But I also do not buy Microsoft’s argument that their scanner and firewall is any more effective than a screen door.  In the spirit of that analogy, it might be good at keeping flies out – but is useless against things as subtle as a sand or a less subtle brick.  For now, only AVG works but it does work well.

Also chocked up on your upgrade list will be Nero. You need at least Nero 7 for Vista.  Nero 6 does not work. Slysoft’s suite (AnyDVD, CloneDVD, etc) seem to work great as well.  But in the end, add another $25-100 for the upgrades to Nero and a virus scanner to the price of updating to Vista.  Peergaurdian and other lower-level device helper apps don’t seem to work either.

While I’m at it, here is a quick/top of my head list of which programs work/don’t work under vista:
MS Office 2005 suite, Firefox, WinAmp, Winzip, WinRAR, Realplayer, Rhapsody, iTunes, Quicktime, VLC player, WinDVD 7, Python SDK, MSDev Studio 2005, Java VM, foxIT (PDF reader), FileZilla, Media Player Classic + k-lite codec pack, Google Earth, Tera Term, Quake 3, Steam/Half-life 2/Counter-Strike Source (online is perfect), Password Depot, Photoshop 5.0 and CS2, (lots more, will add later)

Partially works:
Shockwave/Flash – don’t work in Firefox, do work in IE

Doesn’t work (even in compatibility mode)
Nero 6
Quake 4
ZoneAlarm (lots of errors/instability during reboots + doesn’t work)
McAfee (won’t boot after install)
Kaperski antivirus

Too long – Vista review part 1 – The good

Too long – Vista review part 1 – The good

Yes, yes, yes.
It has been far too long since an update. I’ve been fiddling with getting a WordPress replacement for my homebrewed blogging tool; but it’s time to admit I need to just keep doing this until I get the new one up.  At any rate, I’ve been making updates in text files with the hope of putting them on the new blog framework, so I’ll just slowly start releasing them here.

First up – VISTA!  I’ve been using Vista for a month or so and thought I’d chime in on my impressions as other have. Since all things are mixes of good and bad, I divided my review up after the spirit of one of Clint Eastwoods classics: “Il Buono, Il Brutto, Il Cattivo” (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly). One coming each day this week.

Day 1. Il Buono (The good)

Memory requirements/system requirements:
Remember the horrified forum doomsayers that said you need at least 2 gigs (if not 4) of memory just to get Vista up and a latest shader-based DX10 compliant video card? I’m here to say that’s completely not true. I was running Vista with 1 gig on a core solo laptop with an ATI 200m and on another system with an Intel integrated graphics card. After a week, I can attest the performance was just as zippy (if not more so) than when it was on XP. That’s with Aeroglass running too. Even if your graphics card doesn’t have vista drivers, the non-aeroglass interface is perfectly fine. More memory does help, but 1 gig was more than enough to get full performance and full functionality. 512meg will get you swapping though…

Aeroglass and new interfaces:
If you’re like me, you are NOT impressed by WindowsBlinds and the myriad of other unbelievably sub-standard attempts to snazzy-up windows interfaces.  Don’t get me wrong, the ability to customize your interfaces is a good idea in itself. The problem is these ‘customizations’ or themes are usually done by a teenager who had a 3-day online course on Photoshop and now thinks he is Leonardo Divinci.  With no knowledge or concern of color theory, he slaps together some near-pornographic images of hot girls he stole off the internet after a 5 day drinking bender.

Up until now, users were given the ability to control sizes and colors for all the UI items independently. Unfortunately, it makes it terribly difficult to maintain uniform look and feel between the UI elements. Raw magenta, cyan, yellow, pure reds/blues/greens were NEVER meant to appear on screen together. Yet that’s what is on the default windows color picker palette aren’t they?  Why in the world would you want to change the title bar size and not the text size with it so that it adheres to rules of proportionality?  It’s completely wrong to give users control knobs of an interface’s look/feel all independent of each other when basic design principles dictate they should be linked/proportioned together.

Unfortunatley, this means we are now awash in Geiger/Aliens-esk interfaces with win95 hot-dog stand color schemes on top of semi-nude model wallpapers and button shapes/sizes/icons that rivals the utter ugliness of the original X-windows Motif interface elements.  Microsoft’s ‘give them all the knobs and let them figure it out’ approach is why 50 year old teachers and car salesmen’s computers have window sizes/colors that look like a paint factory exploded on randomly sized pieces of lumber.  For heaven’s sake, the default windows color chooser still had you enter 0-255 RGB values instead of something as basic as a color wheel that shows you the current selection’s complementary color pairings and triads so you automatically get harmonic colors. It’s like telling a musician to compose by entering the frequencies to make a chord. So instead of saying “play a C chord here with feeling” which encapsulates the knowledge of what is harmonic and pleasing, they’d be forced to enter: play 16.35hz (C), 20.60hz(E) and 24.50hz (G) with vibrato of .5hz/sec. Argh!

Even with the good enhancements and expansion to the user interface experience that came in XP, I’m even happier with Vista’s Aeroglass. Yes, Aeroglass is pretty much a rip-off/re-interpretation of Mac interfaces – but that’s ok. Microsoft learned a lesson that interfaces are important, and that wow-factor and flow is key to the experience of using (and selling) the operating system. Apple has this in spades. Why do you think they can charge 2x for equipment that’s about 1/2 as technologically capable than other things out there?

That’s just one thing Linux zealots don’t yet get. Yes you’re technically, and arguably, morally superior. But it isn’t sexy, and in case you didn’t learn this in high-school – you are a lot more popular with sexiness than actually being morally, intellectually, or technically superior (though Apple does get these departments mostly right too – they’re just not bleeding edge). Sexiness also sell more software. Microsoft gets my seal of approval for not going the WindowsBlinds route that just polishes the turd one more time. Instead, they made the conceptual leap in 100% the right direction by rendering windows contents to textures then manipulating the underlying 3D geometry it’s pasted to in order to achieve cool blending, fading, and bending effects. This allows them to utilize the power of modern graphics hardware and finally opening our desktops to the amazing voodoo that shaders do so well.

For desktop themes, you get to pick a little colored, shinny, square gems with harmonic colors already baked in. Too bad that flowing feel of working with the windowing system gets a brick thrown through its aeroglass each time you get one of the unending security warnings (more on that later).  Still, I’ve been using the windows interface and media center app for a month and I’m very impressed with its look and feel. After a few days, I knew I wouldn’t re-install XP. Microsoft’s Media Player, on the other hand, is still the stupidest and most UN-intuitive way to manage and find your music and videos but at least it has gotten a face-lift. It’s technically solid, but I’m always left saying: Geez, kill that thing or build something that actually has a decent, usable interface where I can actually find the songs I want fast and play them easily.

Program compatibility knowledge:
You will get dialogs about ‘known issues’ when running some older programs. This was a good idea – to notify you when things might go wrong and give you a link to an online knowledge base to help resolve them. I haven’t played with it much, but it seems as if the articles are getting updated all the time. Every week I find some new info on a compatibility page. Now, if they could hook it up to a real user-modifiable forum style knowledge-base, that would be excellent. People can post what they’ve tried, what works, partially works, etc. Then Microsoft could come along and certify the ‘best’ answer if it comes along. Hmmm, listening yet Microsoft? Anyway, they do have compatibility running modes that support running things as old as 95. If stuff didn’t just work anyway (which most stuff did), you could set the compatibility mode and I got all my apps to run. The only one I couldn’t get running was Quake 4 (not that that’s any big loss); but I did just hear a new patch that came out will work. Overall, I found compatibility to not be any issue and a touch better than the previous compatibility mode execution.

A real bane to existence is waking up computers from sleep and hibernation modes. Simple a concept as it is, Windows-based PC’s do not reliably sleep/hibernate.  Everybody I know at some time has had some issue with waking from a sleep/hibernate mode – especially with notebooks. Sometimes it never comes back from sleeping, sometimes devices acted weird/don’t function afterwards, etc. I’m happy to say this has vastly improved. I ran my desktop computer for 2 weeks waking and sleeping at least once or twice a day without reboot and had no stability issues. I also did it on a vista compatible laptop I was evaluating and it felt a lot more stable than XP in the one week I tried it.

I can play all my favorite games on Vista without a single hitch – mainly Half-Life 2/Counter-strike source. Performance and frame rates were at least the same, if not a touch better, on Vista. Surround sound in Half-life 2 works flawlessly. It certainly seemed a bit more stable by subtle responses I got. I think gaming will be very compelling, if you don’t have one of the above compatibility problems.

That’s it for THE GOOD so far. Tomorrow: The BAD