Sunday, May 31, 2009

Windows 7: Small details

*ahem* Okay, so I installed Adobe CS4 and it comes with a 64bit version of Photoshop CS4. I figure that I'd toy around with it for a quick minute and see how it is.

After running the installation, I find that for some whatever reason, Adobe decides that it wants to install support files related to other programs like After Effects and Premiere, when I specifically set the install to just put in Photoshop and Illustrator. I don't know why it wants that but it basically bloated my minimal install to about 2.6GB in total. I cut down as much as I could as I do not want some of the other related programs like AIR, Media Player, or Acrobat. I mean, I have no absolute need for AIR as there's nothing that would make me want to use it. And why would I really need Adobe Media Player anyway??

But one of the fancier feature to Photoshop CS4 is the use of OpenGL and the video card's GPU for rendering things on screen. I'll admit that it does make doing simple things like zoom much faster. Before, zooming also means it has to redraw the visible parts again. Anyone who have used Photoshop before would know how it does this process.

But now that it's installed, I can fiddle around with some images. And one of the first order of business is to take a few wallpapers and cram it down to size. Some of the wallpapers in my archive are large, large enough that they don't fit on my screen. So in order to make it fit and to simplify the process of telling Windows what to do for wallpapers (center, fit, or tile), I resize them to my monitor's native resolution. The good thing is that I do not have a lot of wallpapers to go through. Just enough to spice things up and make the desktop look different at least. This is perhaps one of the more interesting feature to Windows 7, the ability to automate the rotation of wallpapers. No longer do you need a 3rd party application to do this single task. Windows now does it for you. And yes, you can set it to change every X minutes or hours or whatnot.

The above desktop screenshot was taken shortly after some quick cleanup. There are certain files that I do not want visible since they're not public-safe. The wallpaper displayed here is one of many that I have selected to go through. I can hardly wait to see how the other wallpapers look when they change.

After burning off a couple of more movies onto DVDs, it seems that burning files onto DVD works as expected. I still have yet to determine if mounting a disc image works without a hitch under Windows 7. I guess I'm just being lazy about it. Then again, there isn't any image to mount in order to take a look through. With the proposed 1.50 patch to Battlefield 2, there's word that DICE/EA wants to remove the copy protection system altogether, due to the age of the game as it stands now. To me, this would be a welcome addition. All the more reason why I do not have to really test if disc mounting an image works under Windows 7.

After nearly a month of normal usage, I have little problems, issues, and quirks to deal with. Only one hardware is unused and that's my TV tuner. But the rest is working great. USB drives and hard drive enclosures work without any problem. My Logitech G5 mouse runs without a hitch. Logitech's SetPoint software doesn't seem to have any problem working with this unknown version of Windows. And Creative Labs has working drivers for their X-Fi series of cards.

What's even better? One of the issue I have when playing movies, especially with audio being played and sent out via SPDIF, is that AC-3 and DTS audio would not play smoothly no matter what configuration I was using. I do not know if it's due to the drivers being more recent, as my Vista setup was one minor version older than what's available from Creative Labs. But being able to hear the surround sound without interruption as I watched the beginning of S.W.A.T. in 1080p quality, it was a blast. But nothing would be complete without a surround sound playback of two scenes from The Matrix. That, however, will have to wait.

Another small quirk I have is trying to get the Xvid codec installed. I don't know if the codec is even working or installed correctly. ffdshow seem to work fine, as I was able to take control over Xvid decoding easily. I'll need to dig up info on this or be stumped and start asking on some forums for answer. But sadly I may end up resorting to a codec pack, which I have personally avoided for many months. Yet this particular codec pack is designed to be minimal, slim, and compatible with Windows 7 and x64.

And so the month of May comes to a close. The next month will be interesting and different. Windows 7: I am definitely getting it the moment it is out!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Windows 7: It Looks Right

This took me a while as I have been doing nothing but playing Guild Wars and Call of Duty as of late. But despite this, there are a couple of things needed to archive and burn to a blank DVD. So in order to do that, I decided to install two applications: ImgBurn and Alcohol 52%.

Alcohol 52% was a trivial matter, since the backend or foundation for which the virtual drive system works with wasn't compatible or usable in Windows 7, at least at first. But a recent update to the backend now adds preliminary support for the new OS. Hopefully there will be additional support down the line. I will have to check to see if the entire virtual drive system works completely, since I have recently deleted a few disc images to free up space.

For ImgBurn, getting it to run is a simple matter. But working with it is a different story. Unlike some of the bigger and more versatile disc burning software, like CDBurnerXP or Nero, there isn't an easy-to-use interface for assembling files together for disc writing. CDBurnerXP, while being free, has a few quirks. I do not know if the developer(s) have fixed this. But I found it to be bothersome and annoying. I may give it another try when Windows 7 is finished and I acquire a copy of the final/RTM disc. Nero is perhaps the strangest out of the bunch of burning software out there. It isn't strange in that it has a weird interface. But instead the drastic change in direction from what it used to be. Years ago, Nero started out simply as a CD burning application. Not only did it has a simple and straightforward interface but it was slim and small, a necessity when you only want a single feature and want the software to do it elegantly. At the time, there were one or two other CD burning programs out there, one of which was the bloatware Easy CD Creator. Since trying out Nero, I have stuck with it for a while. But as the development for Nero continues, the software and the developers started to take aim in other matters, namely CD ripping and MP3 encoding. Later on, they started adding other features which are unnecessary. Before long, Nero has blown up into a giant software suite capable of everything except the kitchen sink.

So as of "writing," I am burning a 720p encode of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. It fits nicely in a single DVD and the software appear to work. But what surprised me is how Windows 7 displays certain things on the taskbar. For example, if you were moving/copying a bunch of files and a progress meter window shows up, the Explorer icon will turn into a progress meter of its own, enabling you to minimize all the windows and not wonder how far until the operation completes. At this time, I do not know if this is something the author of ImgBurn programmed into the software or if Windows 7 recognizes the progress meter in it. Either way, it's a nice little thing that you get and makes using Windows 7 all the more better.

The more I am using this, the more it feels like I'll be glad that I didn't splurge on getting Vista when I needed an x64 build of Windows to use all 8GB of RAM I have installed.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Windows 7: What's Left

Remember trying to get my TV tuner card to scan the analog channels? I've done a couple of tests after using a suggestion from the manufacturer's forums. Unfortunately nothing has improved. The end result is the same and I am still without a "TV" for the time being.

I do, though, have confirmed through a few inquiries regarding Stardock products and Windows 7. Certain programs that don't mingle with the inner workings of Windows will work fine with Windows 7. This is a bit obvious when you look at how the software works in achieving certain effects or do certain task. But other programs from Stardock, like WindowBlinds, IconPackager, or BootSkin will obviously not work well or refuse to work at all, simply because there are certain functions and feature that can only work if it knows how to hook itself into that particular version of Windows. At least for the moment, I will be unable to use any of my favorite WindowBlind themes until a version is release that provide preliminary support for Windows 7.

On the other end, Steam works fairly well. A quick start of Portal and a few configuration settings got me the result I wanted. The platform works and the game works. So it seems that at the absolute minimum, there's no problem. I'll have to check other games to see if they work well. But given that they ran fine on Windows Vista, I predict and suspect that I will have no problem running them.

As I rummage around Google search results for a solution to a minor problem, I found that there is an option that may solve the issue I have with my keyboard. The keyboard is nothing fancy. It doesn't feature any special macro keys or tons of little fancy buttons for a variety of things. Instead, it has a basic multimedia and Internet-related buttons/controls. I have a couple of buttons remapped to be used differently. And thus far I could not get Winamp to truly function the way I wanted it to. The version of Winamp may be a tad old but it was a version that I could run out of its own folder. Winamp is self-contained into its own folder and requires no installation if you can save or back up the folder itself. After installing it, I see the option appear and tested the special keys. They work. Now I can navigate around my lengthy playlist and be able to pause or play the track as I please without needing to bring Winamp to the foreground. Too bad I cannot get iTunes to do the same.

Continuing on the topic of media playback, I realized that the xvid codec that I installed turned out to be unused when I was watching some anime. Instead, it was using the built-in codec that is capable of handling xvid compressed videos. It was strange, at least from what I had thought. Since I have ffdshow also installed, I configured it to be the primary decoder for xvid videos. It works as expected. But when I turned it off, it still did not use the xvid codec itself. I later found out that the folks at Microsoft set their codec pipeline to take precedence over xvid. Either that or xvid is not being properly registered as a viable codec. If that's the case, then I may have to figure out how to get it registered.

Seeing that I got some *ahem* 720p resolution movies sitting around, along with a 1080p resolution of S.W.A.T., I figure I'd give some of those movies a quick test drive to see how the audio output fares. But this is not your ordinary and typical audio test. My setup is unique and is, at times, inhibiting. Most gaming rigs you see, or mostly hear about, have speaker system that is connected to either the motherboard using the onboard built-in sound or the audio add-on card. The most typical of these setups uses analog wires, connecting several speakers into several jacks. My setup consists of one cable, connecting from the PC audio unit over to my 5.1 home-theater receiver. So for me, my audio setup is a bit more complicated and cannot be done with fancy games. To compensate, I test using movies that have surround sound (ie. movies with AC-3 or DTS audio track). Three movies were given a quick 10-15 minute run to determine how well they perform. Audio output was set to send the audio data directly through SPDIF and to my receiver. Audio is then deocded within the receiver and sent to the appropriate audio channel. Movie playback appear smooth. But a short test is not enough to truly determine if everything is rock solid. Audio playback, though, seems pretty good. Of course, the best audio test would be The Matrix's Lobby and Bullet Time sequence, as the audio mixing and surround is second to none.

There was something that broke during Windows 7 development: virtual CD/DVD drives. Mounting virtual drives isn't obscure. Some people use it to check the content of the disc image before burning. Others use it to run installation off of it instead of wasting a disc. I use it for a unique purpose: to bypass a disc check imposed by Battlefield 2's copy protection.

There are ups and downs to copy protection. But nowadays, it's becoming more and more useless and more annoying than ever before. Many times I simply want to make a simple copy of a game that I have bought with my own money. Yet I cannot do that because of the copy protection that's on the disc. It's one thing to ask for the disc to play a game. But it's another if you require the absolute original disc in order to play the game. And that is unacceptable. If copy-protection is a system meant to deter pirates and game crackers, then it is simply not working. Instead of trying to find ways to impose restrictions on legit players, they should simply do away with the entire thing altogether. But I digress...

There are only a handful of things left to install. After that, we'll see how different things fare, especially certain functions that I have not used in ages. That is... if I ever get around to it.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Windows 7: Going Up

It's easy to become lost in the midst of things. Sometimes you tend to forget to do something to test certain features, functions, and abilities to determine if there are any quirks, bugs, or just something out of the ordinary. In an earlier post, I mentioned on how I have iTunes installed and running. But I did not test any of the functions that made iTunes what it is: an interface for iPod, a store, a media player, and a CD ripper/encoder.

iTunes provides a lot of functions for what it is. But there are some things I do not use. As a front-end to the iTunes Music Store (or should we say Media now?), I don't go there to download movies, TV episodes, or music videos. There are better outlets for that, such as the actual TV or from a DVR, or simply purchasing the entire season on DVD. As a CD ripper and encoder, I do not use the encoding function at all, but instead I take an extra step in order to ensure the greatest audio quality possible within the confine and technological limitation imposed by the MP3 compression system. Did you get that? I hope so. In other words, make the audio sound as best as possible using only the best utility and software available. I have, for a while now, been using the LAME MP3 encoder. It is a freeware and open source MP3 audio encoder with a reputable history of trying to create the best audio quality using any techniques that can be done in the MP3 specification, such as producing high quality variable-bitrate MP3. It has worked out for me as it has produced only MP3 files encoded in 320 kilobit per second bitrate. And while the bitrate itself consumes more space than necessary, hard drive space is not even an issue, given that nearly each generation of iPods based on hard drive technology increases its storage capacity by a good margin.

But I run Windows 7, and in 64bit. Not everything is going to play nice. And this is just another one of those tests.

To start off, I loaded up a CD of mine, Songs From the Big Chair by Tears for Fears. It features 3 tracks that I remember well from the 1980s, the decade for which I grew up in -- Shout, Everybody Wants To Rule The World, and Head Over Heels. First iTunes was set up to rip to WAV files. Then, using FLAC, a lossless compression format, I encoded those tracks to serve as backup and to save some space. Yeah, even though hard drive space is a non-issue, I use it to better utilize hard drive space that serves as a network drive. Once that step is done, I use LAME to encode the WAV files into mp3, which will serve as a general format for playback on various media players: iPod, Winamp, Windows Media Player, Zune, etc.

Thankfully, both FLAC and LAME can run on x64 environment, despite that they are 32bit applications. They both worked flawlessly and have encoded the files without a single issue.

Unfortunately, these three tracks are just a fraction of what I want to archive. It'll still take me a long while before I can truly finish getting it all sorted, backed up, organized, and labeled. I have popsy music coming from Japan, along with re-ripping Transformers: The Movie soundtrack, as well as picking out my favorite tracks from Selena's American debut album Dreaming Of You. As if that wasn't enough, my old Chrono Trigger soundtrack needs to be re-ripped, having felt nostalgiac after playing part-way through the Nintendo DS port.

Now on to something different. There are two applications that need to be installed: Impulse and Steam. Impulse is necessary as I have an active subscription to Stardock's Object Desktop suite, a suite of applications that features not just WindowBlinds, IconPackager, and DesktopX, but other Windows utilities as well. But like any other application today, there may be limited or no support for Windows 7 for the time being. Still, Stardock has been pretty supportive with Microsoft in creating various applications, especially with DeskScapes (a utility/program once exclusive to Vista Ultimate users). Once these two are installed, I will know if any of Stardock's great product has any support for Windows 7.

Windows 7: Settling Down

After a bit of bugging in order to get some ideas, suggestions, and whatever else in between, an individual over at Hauppauge's UK forums suggested an idea for me to try out. While I have yet to determine whether or not this fully works, I'll be giving it a try in every possible way. Hopefully I'll be able to finally get the software to not hang there after it's done scanning for channels.

As mentioned earlier, I stated that I needed to get Impulse and Steam installed. They are now installed, just as I said I will do. And Steam operated normally as it should. For a quick test, I have it download and install Portal. Once it was done, I fired it up and got it to set a variety of settings. But unfortunately, when the game first fired up, the audio blared through my headphones, nearly piercing through my eardrums. I do not know why this is the case on so many applications but this is really starting to annoy me. I can tell you, though, that had I let the system volume stay at 100% or at 75%, my personal volume would have been at 1% the entire time. I do not know what would make the volume so high no matter what but even Flash applets would blare out through the speakers and headphones. Even though I am able to control the volume of each individual application that generates audio output, it's annoying to have to set a lot of these applications down to a volume that is a fraction of a full 100%.

Using Impulse was easy. You simply install it and let it run. After setting a couple of tweaks, I find that the changelog history to WindowBlinds makes no mention of Windows 7 support at all. And while the software can run in x64, I do not want to end up having to install WindowBlinds and finding out that it doesn't run or work at all on Windows 7. For the time being, I am stuck without a way to enhance the visual look of how Windows 7 appears. This is not much of a big deal for now. I am quite content with how the windows appear at the moment and I can change the base color of the window borders to my liking. I also know that eventually Stardock will release a beta of WindowBlinds that will introduce support for Windows 7. So for me, there is little worry over this small issue.

Now, sometimes I kick myself for jumping the gun so early. Getting extra RAM for my computer turns out to be one of those instance where I jumped the gun early. With memory prices hitting lows like noone has ever seen, it's easy to expand and get extra RAM for the computer, especially if your system is capable of handling DDR2 memory. One of the benefits of having extra RAM is to be able to run more applications at the same time without it ever going to virtual memory (which uses a chunk of your hard drive to act as memory). Another benefit is the feature that was introduced in Windows Vista: SuperFetch. SuperFetch act like a caching system where the programs you run is partially stored so that the next time it's started, it starts faster. But SuperFetch is a system that loads some of these program information into memory. For some people, SuperFetch is disabled so that they can have the most RAM available to use. Others have it on so that their application can start up faster. An example of this is starting up Firefox for the first time. Without SuperFetch, startup would take about 5 to 10 seconds, depending on hardware. With SuperFetch on, startup would take about 2 to 3 seconds at most. This is roughly the same amount of time it takes for Google Chrome to start up without SuperFetch. So one can see some certain benefit to using SuperFetch.

Well, with 8GB of RAM, SuperFetch has done nothing more than help make my programs start faster, amazingly faster than I could ever hoped for. Well, it is 8GB. What else am I going to use it for? Might as well make the most of it for now! Although... I should seriously consider creating a virtual machine to play around with.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Windows 7: Getting In

To continue where I have left off, there were a couple of things missing -- Guild Wars and Call of Duty: World at War. Getting both up and running ought to be a simple task. So let's start with Guild Wars.

Guild Wars, having experienced numerous reinstall of Windows, knows how to integrate itself into Windows when it is started up for the first time. The Guild Wars program is coded quite well. It behaves similarly to both an installer and a game launcher. Even though it behaves this way, it's a rare kind of game or software that knows what to do when it finds no previous installation entry. Very rarely would you find a game that can behave that well these days, as some of the current games tend to install secret entries in the Windows registry, often items that should have been stored elsewhere rather than the registry.

So after starting up Guild Wars, I log in, take a quick look around, and logged off. Everything look fine and I went directly over to the Games Explorer, a feature that was introduced in Windows Vista. The Games Explorer is a dedicated section where game shortcuts can be installed to. But instead of installing multiple shortcuts of the same game (ie. solo/single-player and multiplayer), you only see one single entry. To access different functions of the game itself, you right-click on the game icon to bring up the context menu. From there you can see different functions related to the game, such as different startup functions, support, checking for game updates, and so forth. Guild Wars is a bit weird. It adds itself into the Games Explorer smartly but twice now (once in Vista and once on 7), it adds multiple entries of the same game (yet labeled as GW Factions, Nightfall, or Prophecies). While this is a minor issue that can be solved by simply hiding the game, it is a quirk that baffles me.

A cool thing about Games Explorer is that you can add your own custom startup command, or switch 'em around so the default is a different startup (ie, you play multi-player solely instead of single-player). For some reason, I cannot find a way to do that in Windows 7. But I do know such a function/feature exists in Windows Vista. I have not yet dig in to see if there is a way but the foundation for which the Games Explorer work is rather simple. After finding out where the startup entries were stored, it's a simple matter of manually editing the shortcut and adding in a new one (one shortcut to play the game normally, another to fetch new files). Yeah, Guild Wars was easy to set up and get it running.

World at War is a different beast. Getting it installed is at first simple. Just run the installation program and let it do its thing. But the installation system that it uses isn't very smart. When I have reinstalled Battlefield 2, the installation program was smart enough if there are files sitting on the destination folder. It would then skip over the files, cutting the overall install time by a very large margin. Mind you, the installation medium for BF2 was 3 CDs. So the time it takes to really install the game files would be quite lengthy. World at War's installation system wasn't that smart so it ends up copying the files over from the disc, completely. Terrific, that means I gotta sit there and wait.

So after the installation was finished, it asks if I wanted to install DirectX 9.0c. Assuming that I have the latest DirectX files anyway (it's Windows 7 after all), I declined. I went ahead to run patches to update the game to the latest/current version (1.4 at the time). After a while, it's up to date and ready to roll. Fired it up, and right off the bat it complains of a missing DirectX-related DLL file. Wonderful. That means I still gotta install it. Off to Microsoft I go to download their latest runtime files. Installed, up to date, and ready to roll, yet again. I fired it up and it starts up surprisingly fast. It used to start up a bit slow on Vista after patch 1.2 or 1.3. But I guess due to how fresh this installation of Windows 7 is, it should be fast. Or at least I hope.

The game asks for which profile I want to use and of course I picked my Sixshot profile. Everything looks okay, except for my rank and stats. That's normal, as the game and its underlying engine stores those data locally on your HD. What a retarded method that was. Still, I make it a routine to make a profile backup nearly every gaming session, so as to not lose any possible progress. Quit the game, restore certain files, and restart the game. Ding! Prestige 5 icon is there, full XP bar, and my 42 kill streak is there. All done! Just to see how the performance is, I went ahead to enable some framerate stats after setting up my video options in-game. Joined one of my favorited server, and saw that the framerate looks good. It's over 60fps which is the bare minimum on my LCD monitor. I then realize that I cannot do certain things with my mouse. Next up: Logitech SetPoint.

Logitech does not have a Windows 7 release for their SetPoint software. But they do have a 64bit version of it for Windows Vista. Since Windows 7 is similar to Windows Vista in many ways, it should have little trouble installing and running. And I was right. Despite a warning that what I was running is not recognized or unsupported, everything turned out fine. I was able to add my programs back in and set up some custom "binds" for the other mouse buttons.

Also missing from noting out is Ventrilo, which has a 64bit build available from their site. The software ran flawlessly and I was surprised to see that I was able to control the volumes of all of my audio lines that the card/driver has to offer. I was not able to do that in Vista but that may be due to using a slightly older version of the X-Fi drivers. The version difference was so minor and I didn't see anything that would warrant upgrading the drivers at the time. But it was a minor issue.

And I think that is all for wrapping up Day 1 stuff. So let's see what I can recall for Day 2.

Xfire, another communications software, does not specify a different build but provides its own 64bit program after installing. My guess is that after installing, it will detect if it's 32bit or 64bit and create the appropriate shortcut then. Xfire runs fine, and there doesn't seem to be any issue as of yet. I did not test out all of the functions that it has to offer. But at the very least, it ran fine.

As I wanted to get my TV tuner card running, I went ahead to install the software for it. Everything went fine and the drivers appear to install correctly. I do know that there is 64bit drivers for the card as I checked the site earlier. And then comes the roadblock. In order for the software to work, it has to know what channels are available. And to do that, it has to scan for available channels. The process was slow but it eventually made its way to the end. And then it just sits there. The window would become non-responsive yet I can still switch to that window via alt-tab or through the taskbar. Even Task Manager would say that the program is running normally and not "Not responding." I went to the software's process and killed it. It shuts down and nothing out of the ordinary happened. I fired up the TV application again to try to get it to run. But it would not run afterwards. I rebooted the system and tried once again. And again, when it reached the end, it hangs. But this time, I noted out the highest channel detected and would attempt to stop it after it has detected the channel. This is assuming that as soon as the scanner reached the end, it could not stop gracefully. I hope that by using the scanner's control that I could force it to stop early, thinking that using it would have a better method of stopping the scanning in a more graceful manner. It didn't work. Stumped and unsure of what to do, I posted over at the manufacturer's forums, which has a section for Windows 7 but a quick search revealed no result. I now wait for potential suggestion as to what to do to work around this problem.

Okay, next stop is iTunes. Always trying to ensure that what I install is customized entirely to where the files get installed to, I ran the QuickTime installer first. It gets installed in its own folder and away from the usual Program Files folder. But I find that the installer defaulted to Program Files (x86), which is the folder for 32bit applications. That isn't looking good.

iTunes comes up next. I ran the installer and fired it up. It tells me that a new version (8.1.1) is available and asks me if I wanted to upgrade. I blindly hit yes. After the update was finished, I start setting up iTunes, only to find out that I forgot to set up my network drives. And if that wasn't enough, I also forgot to set up my workgroup, since I don't leave anything at the default. After a reboot for setting the workgroup, I add in my two network drives: one for storage and another for music files. Start up iTunes, go into Preferences, and specify my own Music Folder location. Done. Next up is a test for iTunes.

iTunes is funky in how it stores its library content. It's not a simple matter of exporting your Library and reimporting it back in. Nah, it's more complicated than that. I figure that the best way is to simply make a complete backup of the iTunes folder that contains your Library content and everything else that is stored there. It's a good thing album artworks are also stored there. I copied them back into the new iTunes folder in "My Music" section and started iTunes once more. Low and behold, my custom playlist and my library content is all back. HOO-AH!

Looking over to the side, I forgot that I still have Task Manager running, since I was doing all sorts of things. In the process list, I find some interesting information, yet it was rather disappointing. iTunes and various programs it uses and depend on are all 32bit programs. Yet I was so sure that what downloaded was 64bit. Huh... false advertisement?

I don't know about you but I change wallpapers often. It may not seem like often to you but sometimes I just needed something different. One of the features of Windows 7 is being able to select multiple wallpapers and have it change and rotate in a timely manner. That's right, automatic wallpaper changing without having to run a 3rd party program! There are so many wallpapers that I can use that it can change often enough to never grow dull and old. Well, my wallpapers may not be to your liking... but I like 'em enough.

And I think that's all for Day 2. Day 3 will be even shorter, as the number of things that I will do become smaller and smaller. However, anything that I want to note out will get posted here.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Windows 7: Starting Out

So the day arrived that Microsoft makes Windows 7 Release Candidate available to all. While it was easy to really get the disc image earlier than expected, trusting it is a bit tricky. Without a method and way to really check the validity of the image itself, I took it with a grain of salt. And then Microsoft made Windows 7 available to those who have paid their dues, with a public release being made about a week after. With it, a couple of "digital signatures" were posted that validates the disc image that was supposedly leaked.

Windows 7 is a hot item, and with good reason. Many have failed to see any reason to move to Vista despite that various hardware are being supported and software are retooled and updated to support Microsoft's current OS. With Windows 7 making rounds and numbers being published, the general feeling of Windows 7 seem to imply that it is indeed faster than Vista. It's faster to boot up and faster to do things. It's also being touted as more resource friendly than Vista with smarter service management. Although honestly, I have yet to see if this is true.

With 8GB of RAM now installed and running, I now run Windows 7 RC in 64bit. My first day experience was rather overwhelming. But there are plenty of things to note out.

I know that jumping on the 64bit bandwagon also means having some setbacks. It doesn't take much to know that a lot of today's software come in 32bit. But I was determine to see what programs I often use can be found in 64bit form. So the hunt begins.

In order for hardware to work well in 64bit, the drivers need to be built in 64bit. Companies like ATi, nVIDIA, and Creative Labs all have drivers available for many of their hardware. Actually, I'm quite surprised that Creative Labs now have drivers for Windows 7, because they are one of the last ones to publish drivers for their audio cards. Since I have a Creative Labs X-Fi audio card and a nVIDIA video card, I have two bases covered for the time being. I delayed looking for drivers/softwares for my TV tuner card, which will have to wait for a bit.

With the drivers installed, the video and sound both fired up nicely. They both performed well and did what they are supposed to do. Other tests will be done later when I have settled down with the OS.

Reinstalling all those applications that I use is going to be a pain. An even bigger pain will be determining if there is a 64bit build. First up is communications: Pidgin and Xchat. Pidgin, using the GTK+ libraries, have no 64bit build, for now. GTK+ has no 64bit build as well. Xchat also have no 64bit build, although the build I use is freely available as it was compiled using the public source code to the software. Winamp has no 64bit build but this is of little matter. For the time being, all of these software are not much of a bother to not run in native 64bit mode. To me, as long as they run and work, I don't care if there is no 64bit build.

I find that iTunes has a 64bit installer. So I will be checking that out once I get around to installing it. There is no 64bit build of Firefox and there is a good reason for that. The current codebase and limitation to Firefox is that if you were to build a 64bit Firefox, the plugins must be built in 64bit as well. As it stands now, all the various plugins that are out there, most notably Adobe Flash, are in 32bit. Extensions, though, are not effected, as they run within Firefox's environment.

As I move on, I need a media player that can handle it all. Using Media Player Classic has been the standard for me since Windows XP. But currently the codebase for MPC is so old and outdated that 64bit is nearly impossible. There is a fork/derivative of MPC that builds upon it. And fortunately there is a 64bit build. But there are a few issues. More later.

There is no official 64bit build for the XviD codec, due to the person who usually makes these installers only having a 32bit OS. The same can be said for ffdshow, since I need it for H264 playback, amongst other things. For subtitles, the problem becomes even worse. There is no x64 build for VSFilter and the code is so old and outdated that I question if there will ever be someone out there who can revise and rewrite the dll for x64 compatibility. After many hours of googling, I cannot find an official source or build in x64 form. Yet there is subtitle support for the fork of MPC. But support is tricky and limited in many ways. VSFilter renders subtitles so much better. Hopefully, someone out there can take up the challenge of rewriting VSFilter to be up to date and compatible/buildable for x64 platform.

For now, some of the anime and videos I've watched runs fine. I wonder for how long I can keep this up.

That's all for now, though. There are a couple more, which will then transition to Day 2 experiences. I'll have that up eventually.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Taking the chance

Running Windows 7 RC right now. So far, so good. I'll post follow-ups with experiences and reviews later on.