Thursday, February 21, 2008

Windows Vista Service Pack 1

No problems.

Unlike the service packs for Windows XP, Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1) is an AUTOMATIC install. That means if you have Windows Update set to perform updates automatically, SP1 will be installed whether you choose it or not. That almost happened to me today, but I was able to delay it until I could do a disk-image backup. See a previous post "RAID Backup" about that process.

Then I allowed the update to proceed. This computer is a medium-high-end system with dual 2.7 GHz processors, RAID 1 SATA disks, 4 Gb of memory, and Vista Ultimate 64-bit. The update took 27 minutes, from start until I was logged on again. It rebooted once during the install.

I have so far discovered no problems at all. I've tried lots of applications, including IE, Word, WordPerfect, Windows Media Center, anti-virus, graphics editors, and many more. SP1 has been running for only a few hours, but so far so good.

Here are some possible improvements:
  • Microsoft says it's a little faster, and it does seem a little more lively, though this computer was pretty quick before, and
  • Before the update, memory usage tended to build up throughout the day until it reached 55 or 60%. Now it seems to sit at about 35%, going up or down slightly as applications are opened and closed.
That's all I have noticed, and those are just perceptions, not measurements. Here are some annoying Vista "features" that have NOT improved:
  • The select zone that extends all the way across the main window of Windows Explorer instead of being limited to the file name,
  • Windows Calendar reminders still don't work if Windows Calendar is closed, even though I have selected the option that should make reminders work,
  • Windows Task Manager still asks for permission to continue, when I ask it to display all running processes, even though I'm logged on as Administrator, and
  • All of the other Vista annoyances.
After the update was completed, a popup asked whether or not I would like to contribute to the "Windows Customer Experience." This was a click YES or NO, with a "read more" link. I clicked on "read more" and was taken to a very obtuse page about personal information and Microsoft's use thereof; that page had nothing to say about Windows Customer Experience. I opted out, of course. Why contribute when they won't even tell us what it's about?

Nevertheless, bottom line, SP1 works fine here, or at least as well as Vista worked before. I'll install it on another computer without a qualm. On the other hand, if I were managing an enterprise network I'd do a lot more investigation before installing.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Desktop iCalendar Lite

Cute but buggy. Almost a product.

I love the look of this cute little calendar. Windows Vista now comes with an almost-competent calendar called, not surprisingly, Windows Calendar. It has its own set of bugs, but it almost works well enough. In particular, it can subscribe to calendars in ICAL (.ics) format which are on the web or on the local network, and it can also publish a calendar in that format locally or on the web.

Since I have two computers, it's convenient to maintain the calendar on the Vista desktop and have the XP laptop "subscribe" to that calendar. Unfortunately, though, Windows Calendar does not run on the laptop, and the Microsoft calendar that IS on the laptop is not compatible with the ICAL format. So a search ensued for a compatible calendar that will run on XP, preferably a free one.

Desktop iCalendar Lite was released less than two weeks ago, and seems to have all of the features that I want. Best of all, it's free. I've installed it on both computers, and it seems to work exactly the same on Vista x64 as it does on XP x32.

What I like the MOST is the cool appearance. The screenshot shows the desktop of the XP laptop computer, with the calendar in the upper right-hand corner on top of a busy desktop theme (breakfast!). It shows even more clearly against the black background that I normally use. Click to enlarge, BACK to return here This is a transparent "skin" (appearance), which I especially like, but the calendar also has opaque skins of various motifs and colors. The text size, placement, and colors are almost completely adjustable. Days with scheduled appointments or tasks are in color, while days without are white. Hover the mouse over any day, and up pops a little window showing the events of that day. On both of my computers I have told iCalendar Lite to subscribe to the calendars published by Windows Calendar on the Vista desktop computer, and that part seems to work.

Here is a list of installation issues:
  • On initial startup, an error appeared with a US Holidays problem. Click to enlarge, BACK to return here This was solved by adding a new US Holidays calendar from Google Public Calendars, then deleting one of the US Calendar entries.
  • HELP did not work, either from the program (right-click and Help) or from the HELP shortcut in Start Menu. This was solved by renaming the file Desktop iCal Lite.chm to Help.chm. Now it works from both locations.
  • The calendar kept prompting me for a Google username and password, even though I do not use Google Calendar. I set up a dummy Google Calendar and eventually the problem went away, though I think a reboot was part of the solution.
  • Initially when I clicked on the "setting" function, the program reported an illegal integer value. Click to enlarge, BACK to return here That problem eventually went away.
  • The hourly time announcement is optional. If you select it, the default sound file is in the folder c:\WINNT\Media, which folder does not exist on either XP or Vista. I changed the default to point to a file in c:\Windows\Media and then it worked.
  • It has a setting called "Run the program at start up." If this is NOT checked, iCalendar nevertheless runs at startup anyway. I deleted the offending registry entry, which was disclosed in MSCONFIG, and that issue went away.
Ongoing issues:
  • The HELP file discusses a "weather" function, which does not seem to exist in this "lite" version of the program. In addition, the HELP file is very, very skimpy.
  • IMPORTANT: The REMINDER function does not seem to work properly. For example, if the reminder is for 5:00 pm iCalendar may or may not chime at that time. Further, it may show a popup at the correct time, or perhaps later, and the popup seems to disappear almost instantly. I can live with the other bugs, but this one is serious. If you set a reminder, you need to be confident that you will GET the reminder at the set time, not one minute sooner or later.
Windows Calendar has this same failing, by the way. It has a setting in Options labeled "Reminder should show when Windows Calendar is not running." But the reminder doesn't always appear, even with that setting checked. I think it always works if Windows Calendar is minimized, but of course that unnecessarily consumes taskbar space.

Rant: I've had a calendar with reminders working on a real-time computer (HP 1000) for over 20 years. I wrote it myself; it's NOT difficult! Is this a problem with Windows, or did two different calendar authors both screw up? Either way, Microsoft certainly screwed up. Why is Microsoft always such a paragon of mediocrity? Heaven knows they have enough money to do the job right the first time if they care to.

The non-Microsoft author might be excused, but not Microsoft for Heaven's sake. If they're going to act like the big boys they should do the job right, but somehow I doubt they ever will. End of rant.

Perhaps the solution to the buggy iCalendar is to try the "full" version; it's only $20 if it works, otherwise nothing. I like the look so much, I'll probably do that. I hope it has a simple digital clock too; I'd like to move that off the taskbar.

Still no response of any kind from Brigadoon Software, by the way. See previous post.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

PCPhoneHome Does Not Call Back

Update 2009 Sep 28: Do It Yourself PC Phone Home

Update: I left three separate tech service requests with Brigadoon Software, the makers of PCPhoneHome, two by email and one by telephone. The most-recent of those, the phone call, was five days ago and the oldest was more than a week ago. I have received no response yet.

It's my current opinion that PCPhoneHome is an orphan - nobody home at Brigadoon Software. So what if my PC was stolen and it did phone home? I seriously doubt I would get any help tracing it. Apparently it's still possible to order the product, but I won't!

Now the problem is that it's still phoning home, from my home, every day at least twice. Brigadoon's documentation implies that it is nearly impossible to uninstall it without their help, and they don't call back. Since PCPhoneHome puts other "hooks" into the operating system, I think I will try to uninstall it anyway before the trial period expires.