Tag Archives: Windows NT

Vista – Upgrading Without Dignity

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Calvin & Hobbes, © Universal Press Syndicate. Original work by Bill Watterson. Found via Transmogrifier.org

I’ve often wondered about Windows Vista, and I’m still wondering. Admittedly, I was slow to adopt Windows 3.0, 95, 98 and XP — I think I’ve had too many wasted days upgrading, and am deeply skeptical of the whole “there’s a new operating system out, so let’s buy a new computer” thing, so I know how much pain is involved in installing an operating system. Assume your day is pretty much gone.

So when Microsoft said that part of its impressive quarterly figures were in part down to Vista, I was as gobsmacked as anyone. I don’t know anyone in my (admittedly small) circle who has installed Vista (as opposed to buying a computer with it already on), so I was wondering who all these people are who have bought it? Jason Hiner of TechRepublic wonders too, and writes a good piece taking a look inside.

As he points out, “it looks like there are three primary factors driving Microsoft’s surprising spike in Vista revenue:

  • Worldwide growth (10%) in PC sales, featuring Vista on over 90% of them
  • Consumers buying the higher-priced Home Premium and Ultimate versions of Vista
  • Businesses signing general licensing agreements that include Vista (future-proofing their PCs for if and when they deploy Vista)”

But as Jason puts it, this is not quite as impressive as it could be. Unless you really know what you’re doing, you’re unlikely to opt for an XP-installed PC if you’re offered the choice in a shop, especially with all the whiz-bank eye-candy of Vista and heavy breathing from the sales dude salivating on your collar. The truth is that we don’t really have any choice about upgrading in the long run. It’s like Calvin being forced to have a bath; we know we have to and we know we will, but that doesn’t mean we’ll do it until all other avenues are exhausted.

“These developments,” Jason says, “are not a ringing endorsement of Windows Vista. They merely make it a melancholy inevitability.”

» Sanity check: The truth about Windows Vista adoption in 2007 | Tech Sanity Check | TechRepublic.com

Windows. How Much Pain Can You Take?

If you’re still happy with your Windows 98, Windows 98 Second Edition, and Windows Millennium Edition then you’re on your own. Microsoft won’t help you out after July 11, 2006, when it ends public and technical support. This doesn’t just mean not having someone to talk to on the phone. It means no more security updates, too, effectively rendering these operating systems useless. It’s a bit like Mad Max shoving the weak and helpless members of the Thunderdome community out beyond the gates at the mercy of those really ugly people whose name I can’t remember. Maybe they didn’t have a name. Maybe this analogy isn’t as good as I thought it was when I started writing it.

Anyway. Microsoft says it is “is ending support for these products because they are outdated and these older operating systems can expose customers to security risks.” Well, yes, but isn’t this because you’re not updating them anymore?  “We recommend,” Microsoft goes on, “that customers who are still running Windows 98 or Windows Me upgrade to a newer, more secure Microsoft operating system, such as Windows XP, as soon as possible.” Of course it’s natural to suggest your latest product is the best one, but it always makes me chuckle when Microsoft say this. You can almost hear their salesmen at work with recalcitrant customers:

“Why did you buy Windows 98? What were you thinking?”
“Well, at the time you said it was great. You said it was the best thing ever.”
“That was then, buddy, this is now. Now it’s the worst thing ever, and you should get our best operating system ever, namely XP, right up until Vista is ready and it becomes the worst thing ever. Then you should buy Vista, which by then will be …”
“The best thing ever?”
“You got it.”
“Shouldn’t I wait for Vista, then?”
“I wouldn’t do that, buddy.”
“Why not?”
“Well, er, frankly we’re not sure when it’s coming out.”
“So you know when products die, but you don’t know when new ones are coming out.”
“That’s right. So you want this XP or not?”

Actually, there are lots of things going on here. There’s the fact that people are so excited about Web applications — programs you run from your browser, rather than as a bigger separate program — that there’s a question mark about the need for Windows. You can run a Web application from any operating system (and most browsers.) And even if you are using Windows, it doesn’t really matter which one — it won’t really improve the quality of the Web application you’re using. So if you can’t get the user excited about the operating system, at least you can get them scared about security. That might prod them to upgrade.

There’s also the fact that operating systems just aren’t as exciting as they used to be anymore. Windows 95 had people queueing up around the block. Since then users have had to be bullied, enticed and scared into upgrading. Sure, XP is better than 98. Actually a lot better. But better for who? For what? A lot of folk, it seems, are still quite happy with Windows 98. If you’re using a computer more than 5 years old, it makes more sense to use 98, because XP will limp along. If you have an office full of computers, you might not want to splash out on XP licenses for all of them, in which case 98 makes sense too. If you’re the kind of person that just doesn’t feel the crazy urge to throw away your computer every few years, chances are you’re still using Windows 98. In fact, according to anecdote, there are still a lot of them out there. They don’t tend to show up in statistics because they’re not often, or at all, on the Internet. (Think old folk; think fixed incomes; think people who aren’t gaga over the whole Web 2.0 thang as we are.)

Then there’s my own pet theory. Most people don’t install operating systems. They just buy a new computer with it already installed. So: Hardware manufacturers are so upset that Vista won’t be out for Christmas — meaning that millions of people won’t bother buying a new computer then because there’s no new operating system to run it — that Microsoft decided to retire 98, Me and all the other slowcoaches, knowing that people won’t “upgrade” their software, they’ll upgrade their computer.

Microsoft has tried to shove Windows 98, and Me (not me, but Windows Me, the operating system) out to the knackers’ yard before. In early 2004 they backed off retiring support for these versions of Windows hoping to keep customers from wandering across the street to Linux. One piece on ZDNet back then quoted a Microsoft senior marketing manager as saying of customers, and I quote: “The more they are used to working one way, the more [it is] likely they will want to continue working that way, so it plays to our advantage. If they move to another operating system, they will need to rethink and relearn. For some people, that is painful. This is also why so many people are resisting an upgrade from Windows 98.” I love this argument. Turns out it’s all about pain. “Our software is so hard to figure out,” the pitch goes, “it actually causes our users pain. We’re counting on this pain to keep our customers. Do you want our pain or someone else’s pain? We’re going to get them hooked, and then they figure the pain they’re used to is better than the pain they’re not. Of course one day we’ll make it impossible for them not upgrade, but by then they’ll be so used to the pain, they would prefer a little extra pain than to switch to another vendor. Which would cause them even more pain.”

That day has come. Paid incident support and critical security updates for Windows 98, Windows 98 Second Edition, and Windows Me will end on July 11, 2006. No other security updates will follow after this date. You’re on your own, buddy.  Good luck out there.

98P.S. Actually, not entirely. There is a Microsoft web page that is dedicated to Windows 98 users. But it hasn’t been updated since October 31, 2002, and is it a coincidence that the only photo on that page is of someone in a d’oh moment, where it looks like they just lost all their files or had a major security breach on their Windows 98 computer? Talk about subliminal messages.

 
 
 
 

Going To PDF And Back

Here’s a list of services and products that create documents in Adobe’s Acrobat “Portable Document Format” (PDF). (Much of this is drawn from Merle’s article on WebProNews)

(This list will be expanded on and updated at loose wire cache, this blog’s more permanent library.)

Software to convert files to PDF

Software that creates PDF files from other files:

PDFMoto: A Web publishing system that converts documents you create in any Windows application into PDF. They offer several different versions, so pricing varies, but they do offer a free version that is limited to 50 documents.

PDF995 : Free software that allows you to create PDF documents as easily as hitting the “print” key from within any application. The free version has an advertising splash page that comes up everytime you run the program but you can purchase “keys” for $9.95 each to remove them if they bother you.

Txt2PDF: a Perl 5 program that converts your old text docs to PDF format. Runs on any platform that supports Perl. From $40.

Gymnast: freeware text to PDF creator for Windows.

CutePDF Printer: totally free. This software has no annoying ads or banners. Choose print from within any application to create a PDF instantly.

Win2PDF: Windows NT, Win 2000 or XP. From $35 to $70.

PDFCreator: an open-source project on SourceForge.net, installing as a printer driver. (Thanks cmswire for this one, and pointing to the original story.)

pdfFactory: quite advanced PDF creator, including multiple documents into one PDF, preview and font embedding.

Suites that include PDF conversion

The following office suites include PDF printing as part of the standard package:

OpenOffice

StarOffice

WordPerfect Office 11

Other products, such as PaperPort ($100 to $200) and PaperMaster Pro ($200) will allow you to scan or convert a file to PDF as part of the program’s overall document management system.

Online Services

Services that

Adobe Look in the left hand column for the button that says “create PDF online.” You can create up to five documents free; after that you’ll need to pay $10 a month or $100 per year for unlimited usage.

GoBlc Free online conversion service that will email you the results.

Software to convert PDF files

Software that turns an Acrobat file into something you can edit in another program

PDFConverter: converts PDF to Microsoft Word (this won’t work with scanned image PDF files) ($50)

OmniPage: converts any kind of PDF file into an Office document; will also scan or convert an existing document into PDF ($600).

More Phishy Emails

Another year, another sea of phish. And such scams — called phishing, where scammers steal your personal and/or financial data by pretending in an email that they are your bank/credit card company etc — aren’t just about money. Here’s one I got this morning from ‘Microsoft’:

Dear Registered Microsoft User,

Due to validation issues with your Product Key for your Windows OS Platform, we need you to validate your information so we can insure nobody else is using your product key. Each computer must have a unique Product Key, this problem usually happins if you install Windows twice on the same machine and use the same product key.
We need you to verify your information so we can send you a New Product Key VIA USPS. This also includes a information packet including ways to secure your Windows Platform from malicious hackers. Your reply is needed so you can continue to receive updates from Microsoft and always be up to date with the newest Service Packs. Please follow the directions below to complete the process.

1. Click Here to be redirected to Microsoft Secure Server
2. Fill all the required fields and press “Continue”.
3. Insure your information is correct, and then fill in the required fields and press “Submit’.
4. Please print the final page to keep reference to.
5. Your done! Please except the package in 4 to 6 weeks.

Please do not reply to this e-mail confirmation. It was sent to you through an automated system that is not monitored. If you have additional questions, you can call Microsoft Customer Service Monday through Friday, 8 A.M. to 10 P.M. (Eastern Time), at (888) 218-5617 (toll-free in the United States).
Microsoft highly recommends that users with Internet access update their Microsoft software to protect against viruses and security vulnerabilities. The easiest way to do this is to visit the following website: http://www.microsoft.com/protect

The ‘Click Here’ link goes to a website called http://badkeymicrosoft.ch which doesn’t look to be too well hidden. But I’ve passed the email on to Daniel McNamara over at Codefish Spamwatch who says it’s a new trick he hasn’t seen before, and although the URL is visible in my email program some (read: snazzier) email programs might do a better job of hiding it.

So what do scammers want with your Microsoft profile? Not a lot, probably: Daniel reckons they’re after your bank account numbers, address etc. He says the site is down now, probably after complaints to the company hosting it, but that such sites only need a few hours to do their work, catching a few people unawares.

News: New Windows Is Out. Sort Of

 Psst! Wanna buy the latest version of Windows, years before you’re supposed to? Head off to Malaysia’s Johor Bahru, where CDs containing software Microsoft has code named “Longhorn” are on sale for six ringgit ($1.58).
 
Reuters reports that the software is an early version of Longhorn demonstrated and distributed at a conference for Microsoft programmers in Los Angeles in October, according to Microsoft Corporate Attorney Jonathan Selvasegaram.
“It’s not a ready product,” he said from Malaysia. “Even if it works for a while, I think it’s very risky,” to install on a home computer, he said.
 
Actually, this happens all the time. I’ve seen early versions of new Windows products all the way back to Windows 95 dotted around Asia. Most are a nightmare to install, and I’d steer clear of them if I were you.

News: Windows On The (Distant) Future

 Reports are starting to trickle out of trouble at t’Microsoft mill. One says it looks like there won’t be a new release of Windows for “quite a while”.
 
 
A Service Pack (SP) 2 for Windows XP — a set of patches and updates to the software — is “running a year later than Microsoft had targeted”. Instead of shipping by the end of calendar 2003, SP2 is now a Q3 2004 deliverable. Microsoft didn’t announce the date slip; instead, it came to light in an article on “service pack lifecycles” published to the Microsoft Web site on Friday. And Longhorn, the codename for the next version of Windows now, after supposedly being available next year, and then 2005, has no firm release date at all. What gives?

News: XP Has Made Everything Better. No, Really

 From the I Must Be Living in a Parallel Universe Dept,  I read with interest of PC Magazine announcement today that it has issued its “Annual Report Card on Service & Reliability Of Major Technology Companies” in which it says that ”consumers are more satisfied with the computer products and peripherals they’re using and the companies behind them this year than in 2002″. That seems unlikely, based on my experience and mailbag, but I did splutter some serious coffee when I read lower down their press release that “Overall, service and reliability has improved, due in large part to the effect of Microsoft Corp.’s Windows XP”. The release went on to say that ”Windows XP has brought computer users the stability of Microsoft’s corporate operating systems – Windows NT and 2000.” Editor in chief of the magazine, Michael Miller, is quoted as saying: “If an OS performs better, so does the hardware it controls.”
 
 
Well, yes, that’s true. But why do I keep having to reboot my XP preloaded notebook because it goes slower than my grandpa’s Vespa? And why do some minimized programs just flash away when I try to switch programs, as if it’s a Dirty Old Man’s convention? And why does the computer spontaneously reboot of its own accord, usually on Monday afternoons or when there’s a half moon? I may be in a minority around here, but my impression with XP is that it’s somewhat better than Windows 98, but it still gives me the shivers. The idea that somehow things are much, much better is just silly.