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?
Microsoft is offering better downgrades from Windows Vista to older Windows XP for buyers of new PCs. Purchasers of new PCs with Vista Business or Ultimate, but not the consumer home versions, can get an XP disk in the box with their new computer. Owners of those version can, at any time, choose to install a free version of XP instead under their license rights, but the disk in the box makes it even easier for those who really don’t like Vista.
Microsoft is also extending the deadline for computer makers to sell new PCs with XP installed, from late January all the way to June 30, 2008. This is just another way people can choose to say no to Vista. I don’t get it. I’m a big fan of Vista, although there are some driver issues on older systems, not the new PCs these affect, so why would people want XP for the same price?
Microsoft is failing at selling Vista if people still want XP. Vista is their best operating system yet, regardless of any limitations, and if people want XP then that’s a serious problem that needs to be addressed. What does it prove? That early adopters, the people who bought upgrade disks and then had terrible experiences, are the most important customers Microsoft had, and that bad drivers are costing the company billions of dollars and its entire future as an operating system company.
Download Squad has an article on .HLP files, the help files used in older software for Windows. Microsoft phased out Windows Help (or winhlp32.exe) with the release of Windows Vista, and in order to force developers over to the new format, Vista doesn’t even ship with a means to read those files. Since help for older programs is still important, when you try to open a .HLP file it fails, but Microsoft does have a viewer you can download in order to still use them.
You can download the viewer by going here. Validation is required, so pirated copies of Vista are plum out of luck, though you can grab a copy of winhlp32.exe from the Windows directory on any Windows XP machine, and it should work just fine.
As DSquad sarcastically points out about the download:
It weighs in at a hefty 601KB, so I can see why the company left it out.
Engadget has revealed that around September 27, Microsoft will unveil a new feature for Windows Media Center, Internet TV. The feature will bring a bunch of on-demand channels into the Media Center interface, letting users watch Sports, Entertainment, News, Top Picks, Music and Movies. Best of all, everything will be ad-supported and free of charge, and picture quality will be somewhere better than standard TV, though a bit less than HDTV.
With the new Internet TV, which will be delivered as a simple software update, owners of Media Center PCs and Extenders, including the Xbox 360, will have access to a lot of free content to enjoy, completely sidestepping traditional television. If Microsoft lined up the right partners for it, got enough content and made it run well on a typical home network, they could wind up with an entirely new tier of television. Can’t wait to see it.
Microsoft, after what has to be more than a year of speculation, finally released some news about the new Media Center Extenders, which allow you to stream music, pictures, video, live and recorded TV from a Media Center PC to set-top boxes all over the house. New devices have been announced from Linksys, D-Link and Niveus Media, incorporating new features like:
Support for new media formats, including DivX, Xvid, Windows Media Video HD and H.264
First Extenders (not including Xbox 360) to stream HDTV and in high definition and protected HD content
HDMI and 1080p to support that HD video
New wireless networking options, including 802.11n
The new technology can be built into more than set-top boxes, but also into DVD players and new TVs
New Extenders will be demonstrated at CEDIA in Denver over this weekend, as well as at Digital Life in New York at the end of the month.
The Xbox 360 is not getting the new codec support, even though it presumably has the necessary power to do so. Considering all the free features the Sony PlayStation 3 offers that 360 owners have to pay for, you’d think that Microsoft would workt to give owners at least some new codecs.
Engadget says that, because of less processing power, the Extenders don’t perform as well (mostly in terms of interface animations) as the Xbox 360 does. Of course, if the 360 does a better job, why can’t it get more codecs?
Tim Cowley (designer of Windows Vista screen savers) and Stephen Coy (engineer for Office) teamed up to release a package of “unofficial” visualizations for Windows Media Player, based on the Vista screen savers. Psychedelia, this viz pack for WMP, is available for download after a year delay in certification testing* at WMPlugins.com.
Album Art 3D – 3D cubes with the album art of the song youâ€™re currently playing
Bubbles – inspired by the Bubbles Vista screensavers also featuring the album art
Distortion – distorts the album art in a 3D waveform
Hypnobloom – hypnotic checkered purple rings
Ribbons – inspired by the Mystify and Ribbons Vista screensavers (as seen above)
Gigertron 3D – 3D layered visualizer bars
up cuber – a pigment arrangement of 3D hexagon cubes
The album art-based visualizations seem to have trouble picking up the album art of the currently playing song, but either way this visualization pack is a must-have for and Windows Media Player user. It looks great, and is well worth the two seconds to download and install. They work in Windows XP and Vista, so long as you have WMP.
* – If you ever wonder why Microsoft products are never “cool”, this is why. A year for certification? Of an unofficial viz pack? By two Microsofties? What hope do the rest of us have of making cool stuff? Microsoft needs to fire the certification team and hire a new team under the “more is more” motto.
There’s a new version of Windows XP. This version of XP is fully compatible with Mac and Linux software, streams to PlayStations, comes with cracked versions of Office 2007, has a $100 bill in the box, and actually seeks out and deletes DRM.
Oh, wait, that was that weird dream I had last night after some bad shrooms.
No, this new version of XP is Windows XP Service Pack 2c. See, XP’s been around so much longer than anyone expected that Microsoft ran out of product keys, and it’s had to issue a new version of XP to accomodate all the people still buying and install XP. Ker-razy!
Critical Action Item:
System builders who use imaging must create new Windows XP Professional images with Service Pack 2c when shipping Service Pack 2c product keys; otherwise end users will not be able to complete installation.
SP2c to Resolve Shortage of Windows XP Product Keys
Due to the longevity of Windows XP Professional, it has become necessary to produce more product keys for system builders in order to support the continued availability of Windows XP Professional through the scheduled system builder channel end-of-life (EOL) date of January 31, 2009.
Unless you have to, it is many times advantageous to “warm boot”, or rather warm reboot, Windows. In a warm reboot, Windows restarts, but the computer doesn’t, skipping the whole pre-Windows boot screen/BIOS/startup sequence. You an easily specify a warm boot in both Windows XP and Windows Vista. Just hold down SHIFT on your keyboard before clicking “Restart” in Vista, or before clicking OK in the restart dialog in XP. Enjoy the extra 20 seconds!
Technically, the use of the term “warm boot” is a bit misused here, but the small amount of time saved by not re-running the BIOS can be worth it.
Microsoft has begun seeding a limited number of beta testers with Windows XP Service Pack 3 and Windows Vista Service Pack 1, which may indicate the operating system updates are well on track for release soon. Currently, XP SP2 comes in at 350 megabytes and Vista SP1 at 3.07-4.3 gigabytes (though the Vista size is bloated by debug code and will come down, as may the XP size).
Catching up: I had a crazy week, with me and my wife going on a short wedding anniversary vacation, one of my best friends getting married, and my aunt and her family moving forever to another continent. There’s a lot of stuff filling up the queue, so we’re going to go through it double time
Grand Theft Auto IV Delayed To 2008
In what is terrible news for many people and several companies, Take Two announced that it was going to miss the planned ship date for Grand Theft Auto IV, and that the game will not hit stores until their second fiscal quarter, January-March 2008. Not only does Take Two miss the all-important holiday shopping season at a time their financial problems continue to mount, but Microsoft loses its “holy trinity” blockbuster lineup, with Halo 3 and Madden not being joined by the top-selling franchise.
While you wait the next six months, you can enjoy this detailed preview of the gameplay. You buy guns out of the trunks of cars, every building has a street address, resumes, and in-game cracks about violent video games, it’s all there.
How To Geek has a really cool registry hack for Windows Vista/XP that adds “Copy To Folder” and “Move To Folder” to right-click context menus. You right-click on any file or folder and click the new menu item to get a dialog which lets you select where you want to copy or move the file to with a simple click.
(via Download Squad)
69,203 Prizes Available From Tropicana and Xbox Promotion
Xbox 360 and Tropicana Twister are running a promotional giveaway, with just under 70,000 prizes to be won. The three Grand Prizes, trips for two to Xbox headquarters in Seattle, are dwarfed by the sheer number of other prizes. 200 first prizes get an Xbox 360, extra wireless controller, Play & Charge Kit, Vision camera, Quick Charge Kit, remote, wireless adapter, wireless headset, memory unit and two games. 4,500 second prizes get two games; 9,500 third prizes get a 360 Twisted Faceplate; and 55,000 fourth prizes get 100 Microsoft Points. So many prizes to win, so enter now
Microsoft has a program assisting businesses who buy PCs with Windows Vista Business (or Ultimate), but want to run XP on them until their software is fully compatible with Vista. Businesses now have downgrade rights, which allow owners of fully licensed Vista PCs to install Windows XP over Vista completely for free, without having to own an unused copy of Windows XP.
According to the program PDF, computers with licensed OEM (comes with a new PC) copies of business editions of Vista can install a copy of XP, one that they must provide themselves. Once XP is installed, the operating system will fail product activation, as it should, since it is a previously used unlicensed copy of XP. Call the Activation Support Line, explain you are downgrading, and they will give you instructions on how to activate it, apparently completely for free.
This doesn’t just work for Vista, it also works for downgrading XP to Windows 2000. In all cases, the business must provide the operating system install disks themselves, but they can be previously used versions without product keys, and only business-class versions may downgrade to other business class versions.
The downgrade paths allowed:
According to Mary Jo Foley, Microsoft is working on simplifying the process further, so businesses can submit batches of keys, instead of calling for each one.
The Hotfix says that they have been told to expect the first beta of Internet Explorer 8 to ship around the same time the beta of Windows Vista Service Pack 1 does, sometime near the end of the year, or a little after SP1 ships. The IE8 beta will be released both for Windows XP and Windows Vista, although there will be differences between the versions.
Lifehacker shows us ViStart, an add-on for Windows XP that brings a Windows Vista-style Start Menu to XP. ViStart, part of the Vista Transformation Pack (which emulates much of the look of Vista in XP), includes a transparent Vista-alike Start Menu, with most of the links and menus typical of the Vista version and the search box for quickly navigating to programs. You can even skin ViStart to give it a different look, like a wild curved shape.
When Microsoft announced Shadowrun and Halo 2 would only run under Windows Vista (claiming that DirectX 10 features were required), it ticked off a lot of gamers. Some of them decided to prove Microsoft was lying about the reason, that these games could easily be run under Windows XP, and set out to make it happen. Well, they’ve succeeded, as Warez, a hacking group, has released a patch that gets both games working just fine under XP with just a 5-megabyte download.
I can’t disagree with the sentiment. Microsoft actually tried to make the claim that Halo 2, released on Xbox years before there was a DirectX 10, required DX10, which is just insulting your fans. We all knew Microsoft was making Halo 2 and Shadowrun Vista-only as a marketing tool for Vista, but Microsoft insists in some cases on bald-faced lying about the reasons behind a decision. If MS had just been honest, people would have understood.
You know, some parts of Microsoft get it, other groups don’t.
Microsoft has let out a few more details about Windows XP Service Pack 3, coming sometime in the next 86 months (okay, 2008, hopefully, maybe, possibly). Courtesy of a Justice Department legal filing, Microsoft excplained certain changes it is making to satisfy regulators, changes you can expect to see in SP3, to Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player. The section, quoted at SoftPedia:
Microsoft has agreed to make changes to Windows XP, two Middleware Products, and Windows Live Messenger. The Windows Live Messenger changes have been delivered in the Windows Live Messenger 8.5 beta and will be included in the public release. Changes for Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player will be made available to users in August 2007 and Microsoft is discussing with the TC the delivery mechanism for those changes. The Windows XP changes will be incorporated into Service Pack 3 for Windows XP