Saturday, May 30, 2009

Windows 7 Release Candidate

I don't like Windows 7. Perhaps I am a Luddite. Perhaps I just resist change, because I prefer the familiar look and feel of XP.

For whatever reason, having tried the beta, I was inclined to ignore the release candidate. It gobbles up my download limit, and it is time wasting. Two things changed my mind. The first was comment in the press, by which I really mean APC magazine. The second was the inevitability of the role out, and the need for me to become familiar with it in order to service my customers.

On the first, I have a fairly low opinion of the press, and I have developed an especially low opinion of APC mag. I don't know why I read the editorials, because I find the editor intensely irritating. He strikes me as a man of little brain, and he seems to write not what he believes (if indeed he has beliefs) but what he has heard, or what he thinks will make him seem trendy or with it.

He raved over Windows Vista, when he thought it was exciting, but as time progressed and it became clear that people hated it, he joined the bandwagon and lambasted it. So why am I influenced by such a person raving over Windows 7? I guess there comes a point when a person becomes sufficiently sponge like, that they can be used as a litmus or indicator of more general opinion, and listening to them saves a lot of reading.

On the second, there is little to say, except that it will be used, because the average person is even thicker than a technical magazine editor, and they just buy whatever is in the shops.

So I waved goodbye to whatever was left of my download limit, and tied up my router for 36 hours while RC1 came in. I burnt the DVD, as one would expect to do with an iso file, booted to Win7 beta, and let the DVD run.

For like ages there was a "files loading" message, and then there was a silly message, with the meaningless error code 0x0, saying that the download had failed but urging me to try again. How silly. If an install fails once, why would it run successfully on a second attempt? But like an idiot, I followed the recommendation, tried again, and exactly the same thing happened again.

I was a bit surprised. After describing Windows 7 beta as like a poor quality Linux release, and then reading great things about it in APC mag, I thought perhaps that either I had been mistaken, or that it had got better. But after a futile hour, with my best computer effectively lying idle, my original opinion of Windows 7 was restored.

Thank goodness we live in a democracy. Imagine an Orwellian world where people like Microsoft executives really controlled everything in our lives, and where there really was no choice but to accept it. How like "1984", and how dull it would be. Microsoft continues to survive and thrive because most people are unworthy of democracy. Most people are born to be herded like sheep, and are happiest when they are being herded.

So I framed a question for the forum, honed a titled, and then searched on segments of my title. Disappointingly, there was nothing new. There was nothing specific on error 0x0, but on upgrade fails, there was the usual nonsense about upgrading graphics drivers.

There is no point in trying something out if one doesn't give it a reasonable go, and it is wrong to criticise something if one hasn't looked at it reasonably thoroughly. I therefore followed the links in this thread to update my nVidia driver. I used the online update tool, all from within Win7, and to be fair it worked very well. It was, however, a complete waste of time, because my third attempt at the update install failed at exactly the same point as before. By now an entire evening had been wasted.

I decided the time had come to post a question in the Windows 7 forum. This forum has a clever feature which runs a search after you enter the title to your intended post. One of the five threads displayed looked interesting, so I postponed my post and had a look at it. Of most interest were the following bullet points:

  1. While the error message is displayed, press SHIFT-F10 to open a command prompt
  2. Locate your \windows\panther\unattendgc folder (please note the unattendgc folder in this case)
  3. Copy out the setupact.log file and paste relevant information into the thread (this setupact.log should not be really long)

To be honest I couldn't see why this had to be done "while the error message is displayed". A log is a log, and of it's very nature static, unless it is being updated. My computer was back in XP by now (we don't use Win7 as a working system), but I navigated to my Win7 partition and found the setupact.log file. It's last amended date was February, so while the thread had made interesting reading, it was of no practical use to me right now. So I posted my question.

It's always disappointing when a forum question receives no replies, but while waiting I amused myself browsing. Sometimes browsing is better than search a forum, because different people describe things in different ways, and it is sometimes hard to guess how other people might have described one's own problem.

While browsing I found this thread. It suggested using 7-zip "to extract all the contents of the iso to a directory of your choosing and run the setup from there". I thought this was a jolly clever idea and wondered why I hadn't thought of it myself. I use a number of file compression and extraction tools, and at first I thought any would do. My computer with the Win7 iso on it happened to have WinRar installed so I tried that. All I got was a text file.

So I dug into my archive for a version of 7-zip downloaded some time ago (maybe 2005) installed it and tried again. I like 7-zip. I have used it many times and it had never let me down before, but this time it froze. That was version 4.32.

I store a lot of utilities, and my inclination is to use what I have, rather than downloading more. One of them is IsoBuster. My version was 2.1. The latest version is 2.5, but it doesn't see more, and may be more restrictive. Anyway, without being a real expert, I thought the layout (shown below) was unusual and interesting. Note the two "folders" with identical names, one of type iso, and one of type udf (whatever that means). In the iso folder there is just a text file. In the udf folder there is all the stuff you would expect on an install CD/DVD.

IsoBuster expects you to pay to extract files, which led me back to the 7-zip website, to download the latest version (4.65). After installing this I was able to extract all the install files on to my hard drive.

I booted back into Win7 to start the install again. The process ran much faster than from the DVD. There was no error, but instead an irritating message saying that the beta was not upgradeable. Why when Microsoft sends emails out to beta testers, advising of the release of RC1, don't they put in the email a note to the effect that the RC will have to be clean installed? It would save a lot of time an exasperation.

I happened to have an empty sector on my hard drive which I had been saving for Ubuntu (there just aren't enough hours in the day). So I shoved the RC in here, and the install went swiftly and without any problems.

All in all the exercise used up 24 hours, with no other productive work done in that time. Microsoft beta software is not free. Pricing one's time at even the most modest rate, the retail value of the product has been way exceeded, just installing one edition. On top of that is the download time, and the value of the bandwidth used, and the value of space taken up in a computer.

Having done all that my wife and I spent an evening using the product. My wife browsed using Internet Explorer 8, without issue, and we watched a couple of recorded TV shows using Media Player on the default settings. The sound wasn't quite right, but the picture was fine, and I liked the curtain effect which came up after a video had finished playing.

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