Since dual core and 64-bit processors started going mainstream, computer users have had more power than they know what to do with. In fact, they’ve had more power than their software knows what to do with. To truly take advantage of major advances in modern processors, modern software is required, all of which makes the upgrade cycle much more interesting.
Previously, software and hardware advances were less interrelated, and an advance in one did not advance or require as much the other. Sure, you might need a faster processor to run a faster version of Windows, or a new game to push that new graphics card to the limit, but these were questions of pure speed, not capabilities. It’s analogous to the difference between a faster car and a self-driving car. A faster car runs faster everywhere, but a self driving car is just a regular car until you have roads that allow and support the use of cars that can drive themselves.
The speed race in processors and other pieces of hardware ended years ago. If it hadn’t, Intel® would be releasing a 15 gigahertz Pentium 4 by now. Instead, you can buy an off-the-shelf PC today that runs at the same basic speed a PC released in 2002 could have. The newer PC smokes the old one because while both processors might be running at 2.2 GHz, the modern one isn’t one processor, it’s many. A 64-bit processor can run instructions 4 billion times as large as a 32-bit one. A dual core processor is almost like having 2 processors, and a quad core is twice that. Add in multi-threading, and you have a maching that for all practical purposes might as well have 4 or 8 2.2 GHz processors.
None of this means anything without the right software. Install an old version of Windows on the newest, fastest Dell with a 64-bit quad- or six-core chip, and you might get nothing more than the power of a single logical processor, not the 8-12 logical processors you paid for and would have gotten with a more up-to-date release. As a result, upgrading your software will often upgrade the hardware because the powerful hardware you bought years ago pre-dated the advancements in software required to take advantage of it.
Since we are in the midst of a series examining different modern IT issues, it’s useful to point out that it used to be that aging software in a corporate environment was the norm, but that trend has strong reasons to change. Older hardware is better capable of running modern software than at any time in the past. Windows 8′s system requirements are “If you could run Windows 7, you can run Windows 8 faster”. “If you could run Windows Vista, you can run Windows 7 faster”. Efficient operating system design by Microsoft means that a PC from 2006 could run Windows 8 in 2013, some without any upgrades. Business computers are in fact the most likely to have been more powerful than average when purchased seven years ago, and more likely to have survived until now, to be able to make the move to the new OS.
The fact is that while everyone knows that newer hardware is faster than older hardware, many software developers have been doing such a great job writing apps that, with each upgrade, run faster than the previous version. Sometimes it’s a new feature that makes use of the software more productive, but more often these days it’s better written code and better use of modern hardware and software capabilities that makes that newer software so much more awesome.
We’ve had amazingly fast computer hardware for a decade at this point. 2013 hardware is faster than 2003 hardware, but 2013 software can run faster on 2003 hardware than 2003 software ever could and draw less electricity while doing it. We’ve had dual core processors for years, but modern software knows what to do with it. We’ve had 64-bit processors since the 90s on desktop PCs (and the 70s in other cases), but if you aren’t running a very up-to-date version of your favorite software, it isn’t taking advantage of it. In fact, until a couple of years ago, it was common for systems with 64-bit processors to ship with the 32-bit version of the OS installed for compatibility reasons. Thankfully, that trend is almost dead.
Businesses have more reasons to perform upgrades, since they can then do more with the hardware they already have. Windows 8, or the latest Office or Photoshop can put both cores on your CPU to work (or all four cores or more, as it were). They can serve up 64-bit instructions to that CPU many times faster than a 32-bit one would have been. A new OS, in turn, adds APIs and features to your computer, while new software takes advantage of those additions so that they, too, can run faster. All of which is why it once you put a price on productivity, it can often be more expensive to keep the older, slower version of critical business software than absorbing the cost of the next version.
It’s extremely likely that whatever machine you are using right now, the software you are running isn’t taking full advantage of its capabilities, and in some instances, the software needed to take advantage does exist yet. For this reason, it’s important to look at PC hardware as an investment that can grow over time. By picking a processor with features that haven’t been fully utilized yet, you are picking a computer that will only get better with age, like a fine wine.
This is a paid post in conjunction with IDG, Dell and Intel®.
Microsoft is in the process of testing Service Pack 3 for Windows XP, in preparation for a wide release, and all indications are that it is a significant performance improvement for XP. In fact, the performance of XP under SP3 is so good, that some are saying it makes Windows Vista look like a chump.
It’s already a fact that Windows XP, with a six-year old architecture and tons of patches to stabilize and protect it, is Windows Vista’s number one competitor. XP is relatively stable, carries lower requirements, is compatible with almost everything and is usually already installed on most computers (except brand new ones). The challenge for Microsoft isn’t so much to prove Vista is better than Apple’s Mac OS, but that it is better than XP.
Microsoft until now has been challenging the image of XP in the marketplace, but when SP3 releases, it’ll actually be competing with itself. XP SP3 is an improvement to an already popular operating system, one that puts a direct shot across Vista’s bow, and actually sets up the team that developed SP3 as competition for Windows Vista.
Microsoft’s not stupid. It knows that it is in some ways shooting its own Vista in the foot with SP3, making Vista’s adoption harder against an improved XP point release. It would have been dishonest to its customers to cripple XP SP3 just to help Vista, and you can see how much Microsoft has improved in that it isn’t doing so. An “evil” company certainly would have.
Microsoft is likely counting on two things. Most probably, it will not significantly market SP3 like it did for Service Pack 2 three years ago. Current users will get the improvement, but Microsoft won’t encourage people to buy XP now that it has been improved. Microsoft wants you to get a better XP, but if you don’t have it, they still want you picking up Vista, which is also getting an improved Service Pack 1 release.
Besides that, Microsoft is probably hoping the good will from SP3 will encourage you to keep using Windows. Microsoft is seriously improving an older product at a significant cost to itself, showing commitment to improving its users experience at any cost. Microsoft will remind you that Vista will receive the same commitment, and that Apple charges money for point releases every two years.
Will it work? SP3 is going to cost Microsoft and Vista in the short run, but in the long run it could be a huge help for the company. At the least, if you’re buying XP, you’re still not buying Apple, right?
Photo by doobybrain under CC license
Here’s everything that’s built up over the weekend, so we aren’t still talking old news on Wednesday:
For one week, the Xbox 360 was actually bigger in Japan than Sony’s PS3, with the 360 outselling the PS3 as sales increased from the previous week by about 500%. It’s not Wii-level (and the low-selling PS3 isn’t that hard to catch), but it’s a start towards gaining a real foothold in Japan. On the other hand, PS3 sales in the US are up double so far this month after the console’s price dropped to $400.
Even with the Wii outselling the 360, Microsoft makes more money than either Sony or Nintendo, due to higher priced consoles and much higher game sales. Halo has sold 3.7 million copies so far.
Another Windows Vista Sidebar Gadget: Wedding Tip of the Day, the perfect Gadget if you’re planning for a wedding. Every day, tips and ideas for planning your big day, with eight different styles to customize the look.
The PS3 now has support for DivX files. According to a slip-up in the press conference, negotiations are underway to bring it to the Xbox 360 real soon.
Zumobi, a company spun out of Microsoft Research, has announced that its new UI for mobile devices will be released December 14. Zumobi works by displaying up to 16 “tiles” in a grid of web services and content on a single screen, allowing users to choose quickly from the available sites. It’s a complicated but supposedly genius idea, one we’ll have to play around with to fully understand.
Windows Live Search’s link command, disabled to keep spammers away, is now working again.
Apple finally admitted that porting its UI over to Windows is stupid, and has fixed a lot of the Mac problems in the Windows version of Safari. Windows can now be resized from all edges, not just a little thing in the corner, and ClearType font rendering can be used instead of Apple’s patented EyeStrain technology, among other fixes.
A new version of Office Accounting Express is out, the 2008 edition. And yes, it’s still free.
New deal: If you have an original Xbox with Xbox Live and purchase an Xbox 360 between tomorrow and December 21, you get a free copy of Halo 3.
There’s a new Windows Vista Sidebar Gadget that should make you happy in a silly way. It’s that gaming classic, Whack-A-Mole! Any time you get a hankerin’ fer some mole-whackin’, just head over the Sidebar and click to start a new game. A bit of advice: It’s hard to work with the smaller docked version, so you might want to drag it off the Sidebar.
Download it now.
Amulet Devices has announced a Windows Media Center remote control that has a microphone stick at the top of it, letting you speak into the remote and issue voice commands to your television. They have a video showing how you can name an artist and have Media Center play music by that artist, or ask your TV to change the channel or find the channel airing a specific show, among other possible applications of the remote.
The remote has some position sensing technology built in, letting the remote know when you’ve tilted it towards your mouth. This way, the remote doesn’t follow commands from the TV, switching shows and music based on what comes out of the speakers, but instead only listens when you lift it to specifically issue a command.
Amulet makes these Media Center PCs that work around the voice remote, with a 7-inch touchscreen on the front of the PC and some custom interfaces that work with the remote, dual tuners and other goodies. It looks like it comes with a special browsing interface for album cover art, one that looks similar to Apple’s Cover Flow and you can flick through with your finger on the touch screen, as well as pages of different features that you page through by swiping your hand.
It all looks pretty cool, and the Dublin-based company just unveiled it over the weekend at RDS Dublin. I’m already talking to the company, and I’ll update with more information as they send me it.
Adam Kinney has created an Xbox Live Gamer Tag Gadget, which lets you enter a bunch of Gamer Tags and see who’s online, and click one to see what games their playing and other stats. It’s a fairly useful and well-designed Gadget, but what makes it so good is that the whole thing is built on Silverlight. So, now that we know Silverlight Gadgets work, and work well, imagine how much cooler-looking Gadgets we could be getting in the future.
There’s a demo of it on Channel 9, and you can download it at this link. Make sure you have Silverlight 1.0 installed.
There’s another application you can download to mess with system settings on Windows Vista, and this one’s a free download. VistaTweaker is light on the graphical flash, but it has seven tabs of checkboxes to keep you satisfied. You can use it to:
- Disable User Account Control
- Disable the Secure Desktop or Security Center notifications
- Enable unsigned drivers
- Add context (right-click) menu listings, like Register/Unregister DLLs or ActiveX Controls, Copy/Move to Folder, Open with Notepad and Take Ownership
- Disable AutoReboot
- Disable AutoComplete in file dialogs
- Show hidden/system files and file extensions
- Disable file Tooltips
- Remove the Shortcut arrow or the “Shortcut to” text from icons
- Disable Start Menu notifications for newly installed programs
- Hide Recent Documents
- Speed up Start Menu search*
- Enable ClearType
- Enable Classic View in the Control Panel
- Disable auto image resizing in Internet Explorer
- Disable all browser extensions
- Enable smooth scrolling
- Disable header/footer printing when printing web pages
- Open all popups in the same window
- Disable the Information Bar
- Disable the Internet Connection Wizard
- Disable the RSS feed discovery sound
- Disable header/footer printing when printing from Notepad
- Disable updates for Windows Media Player
- Disable Roaming Cache
- Allow more connections per server
- Disable low disk space checking
- Disable the creation of 8+3 filenames
- Tweak the timeout for killing a service or an application
- Change the registered owner or company
- Set the default user, password and domain
There are a lot more settings I left out, and while a lot of them are settings you already know how to change, you might appreciate having them all in one place, instead of having to locate the appropriate control panel, plus it can be run off a flash drive (even U3). You can download the latest version here.
(via Download Squad)
* – I don’t know how exactly it accomplishes this, so I’d worry that it reduces the effectiveness of Vista search in order to speed it up
Dell has unveiled a new PC, the XPS 420, which comes with an integrated Windows SideShow display. SideShow, the exciting technology that allows PCs to have external screens with certain vital data, hasn’t gotten a lot of traction since Vista was released, but Dell’s endorsement may help turn things around. The display is on the top of a desktop tower, which may make it difficult to access if the computer is on a desk next to the monitor (and thus positioning the display above your head), but it should work nicely if your PC is on the floor.
The specs of this PC:
- Intel processors, up to Core 2 Extreme 3 GHz
- Vista Home Premium or Ultimate
- Up to 4 GB RAM
- Up to 2 terabyte RAID hard drives
- Up to a Blu-Ray drive and dual layer DVD R/W drives
- Up to 768MB nVidia GeForce 8800 GTX
- Available AGEIAÂ® PhysXÂ® physics accelerator
- Up to Sound Blaster X-Fi Xtreme Music audio (cannot order advanced audio and the PhysX card, presumably due to a lack of expansion slots)
- Available ATI Theater 650 PRO Combo TV Tuner with up to Gyroscopic Remote and Xcelerator
- Comes with Dell Bluetooth Wireless Media Hub + Bluetooth Keyboard and Mouse
- 802.11b/g wifi card (but no available 802.11n)
- Up to Bose Companion 3 Series II Multimedia Speaker System
- Free 10GB DataSafe Online Backup for 1 Year
As maximum configured by me, with a 4-year warranty and no PhysX card (audio is more important to me), the system is $5,835. At base, you could get it for $1,499 with a 20 inch flat-panel monitor, 2.66 GHz Core 2 Duo, 2 GB RAM, 320GB Hard Drive, dual layer 16X CD/DVD burner (DVD+/-RW) drive, a 1-year warranty and no Office suite.
(via the SideShow team blog)
With Microsoft buying a portion of Facebook, it’s only appropriate that tonight’s Windows Vista Sidebar Gadget is a Facebook one. This Gadget, MyFacebook, shows you if you have new messages in your inbox, pokes, pending friend requests, lets you see your friends albums, friend lists and events in a popout, shows your status and a scrolling display of your friends’ statuses, and even lets you update your status right from the Gadget.
Getting it to work is tricky. After you’ve installed the Gadget, click the Facebook logo to login to your Facebook account. You’ll get a prompt to authenticate the Gadget, and entering your username and password should launch Internet Explorer. If it doesn’t work, you’ll need to open Internet Explorer (not your default browser, it has to be IE) and add https://login.facebook.com, http://login.facebook.com and https://facebook.com to your trusted sites list. To do so, click Tools>Internet Options, the Security tab, click Trusted Sites, then Sites, then add the sites. Start with the first site, then if it doesn’t work, add the next, and so on, until you can log in.
After you’ve logged in the Gadget, click its settings icon and add the feeds it requests. Do not select the option to show your friends’ albums, because it really does take forever to load. You can have multiple instances of this Gadget, so you can keep tabs on more than one Facebook account at the same time, as you can see in my screenshot.
There’s a lot going on in this Gadget, so take the time to figure it all out. It’s worth it. It may have some flaws, but this Gadget is already one of the best I’ve installed, and I’ve installed hundreds. Check out the Gadget page on Facebook to discuss with other users, and go to the Gadget author’s blog for more information and answers to your questions.
Continuing my quest to bring you the most unique and useful Windows Vista Sidebar Gadgets, today’s Gadget is a Pregnancy Calendar. Colored in the brightest of bright pinks, this Gadget lets you select a due date or the end of your last period and tells you how far in you are, and how much time is left before you have a baby. Not only that, but if you click it, it has fun facts about what’s going on right now with your fetus.
Another Windows Vista Sidebar Gadget from Wikio, this one shows you news about video games. You can get general industry news, or select from the drop-down to get news about specific consoles (like the Xbox 360 or Wii) or popular games (like Grand Theft Auto, Halo, or Second Life).
With Football season well underway, you probably can’t wait to hear the latest news about your favorite teams*. To help you keep up with things, there’s a few Windows Vista Sidebar Gadgets you can install.
The NFL news Gadget gives you the latest headlines on the entire league, or you can select to just see news about your team.
The NFL scores Gadget shows you the score in the current or recent game your team played, or it shows you who they’re playing next and when.
Also, the Sports news Gadget delivers general sports news, or you can click to have it show news on any specific sport you like, including baseball, basketball, hockey, or 13 others sports.
* – Unless you’re a Rams fan
Because you can never have enough Vista Sidebar Gadgets*, here’s another one you might want, if you’ve got your own website (or just really, really like one): The isAlive Gadget checks if your favorite website is online or not. You can set it to any website, tell it how often you want it to check, and have it play a sound when the website goes down (and when it comes back).
* – Not true! The limit for the number of Gadgets you can safely install is 347. After that, your computer eats you in your sleep.
Here’s another useful Windows Vista Sidebar Gadget for you to try out: The Microsoft Office Tips & Tricks Gadget gives you a new tip every day for using Microsoft Office. Click the Gadget and read the whole tip, which should hopefully make your day a little bit easier.
Here’s a fun new Windows Vista Sidebar Gadget: Coming Up looks at your Outlook Calendar and pulls out your All-Day events, giving you a heads-up on upcoming birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and whatnot. Very useful for keeping track of that stuff.
If you’re thinking of nothing but Christmas, install this Windows Vista Sidebar Gadget that will count down the days, hours, minutes and seconds until midnight Christmas Eve arrives. Enjoy!
If you look in Windows Vista Media Center now, you should see the new Internet TV button. Under there, you’ll get to look at a number of interesting videos, including every single episode of Arrested Development, concerts, movie trailers, music videos, viral videos, sports highlights, news stories and more. All of it is served streaming over the internet, and all of it is free and supported by the occasional ad.
I had the opportunity to talk to some guys from Microsoft about Internet TV at Digital Life, and they explained that this isn’t a full product, but rather a beta test for a bigger setup Microsoft would like to pull off. Basically, they want as many users as possible to try it out, watch as much video as possible, so Microsoft can stress test the system, see what works, and expand it into a full Internet TV platform for Media Center.
I think the whole think works beautifully. Assuming Microsoft can sign up enough content partners, it could provide a ton of free video content for Media Center users. With streaming to Extenders and the Xbox 360, Microsoft will be delivering free content as a major bonus to those who invest in this ecosystem, and it can start selling content as well down the road.
If Microsoft wants to be truly smart, it’ll use this to find a way to deliver extra content to owners of Windows Vista Ultimate as an Ultimate Extra, like free movies, or give them content earlier than everyone else. That’ll settle some of the complainers
photos by abrudtkuhl and @le
Windows Server 2008 Release Candidate 0 was released, and customers and partners can download and test-drive it while Microsoft sees if the code is ready for gold release at the end of the year.
Windows Vista Service Pack 1 has been released to select beta testers on Microsoft Connect.
Microsoft also released four patches for Windows Vista, available for download right now by everyone, and they will be part of Vista SP1. The patches are for compatibility and reliability (including extending mobile battery life, stability of wireless networking, shortening startup time), fixes USB problems, updates Media Player 11, an update rollup for Media Center
Windows XP Service Pack 3 was released to MSDN and TechNet testers, with testing set to complete with final release in the first half of next year.