Windows 7 Beta

Microsoft’s beta of Windows 7 was released a couple of days ago. Prior to that, it had been seen and reviewed extensively because it was on bittorrent (peer-to-peer) sites. There is speculation that Microsoft themselves leaked this build to the Internet to build interest. Given the poor consumer embrace of Windows Vista, it appears that Microsoft is using this update to ditch the term Vista.  Windows 7 does appear to be faster and better than Vista.

Back Story

After Vista’s so-so entry into the world, Microsoft revamped their development approach to Windows. A few years ago, Microsoft’s approach was to have a main development build of Windows. When it was time to make the desktop or server versions, they would fork the source code tree. This forked approach proved unwieldy for keeping track of all the code.

For Windows 7, the code is now componentized. This means that each part of the OS is worked on individually and managed in one spot. To make the desktop OS, you simply pull all the components needed together. For Windows Server, you do the same. Due to this streamlined approach, not only will Microsoft be able to come out with OSs in a timely manner, but updates will also be smaller and released more frequently.

Optimizations and Drivers

In the process of modularizing the OS, they also looked through the code to see what was used the most and worked on optimizing that code. So while the entire OS hasn’t been “optimized”, the stuff that matters is. I’m running Windows 7 on my Acer Aspire One, and it runs quite fast, faster than Vista or XP.

Since Microsoft wants Windows 7 to launch without a hitch, they’re not changing the driver model from Vista. So if your printer or scanner now (finally) works, then it’ll work in Windows 7 too. They are also putting pressure on hardware manufacturers to have signed/updated drivers.

What’s new in Windows 7?

The biggest difference you can see in Windows 7 is the new taskbar.

You aren’t forced to use the taskbar and you can go back to the old way if you want. This taskbar looks much like the dock in Apple’s Mac OS X, but it’s a little nicer. You can run a program more than once (can’t do that on a mac). But the best thing is Aero Peek.

I’ve been looking for something equivalent to OS X’s exposé for quite some time, and this is better. When you mouseover the program icon in the task bar, it brings up a thumbnail of every window that application has. When you move over the thumbnail, that window fades in while all other windows fade out. If you have a phone number or some quick info you need to view in another application, you can get to it without any mouse clicks.

Not Far Away

For a beta, Windows 7 is already very stable and is reportedly feature complete. This means that Microsoft can’t be far from releasing it, possibly by mid-2009. With the new Mac OS X Snow Leopard arriving around that time too, it should be a good year for operating system upgrades.

Delay to Digital TV Transition?

The incoming Obama team has written Congress asking for a delay of the planned February 17th turn off of analog over-the-air TV signals. While most people won’t notice this eventual transition, there are some hurdles.

Most People Aren’t Affected

The loss of analog over-the-air signals will not affect most people who use one of 1) cable, 2) Satellite (Dish or DirecTV), 3) digital over-the-air (still using an antenna), or 4) fiber (FIOS TV service). Most people in the D.C. area will not be affected. TVs made in the last couple of years should have digital tuners, known as ATSC tuners.

Expected Problems

In my experience setting up home theaters and TVs in the DC metro area, I have found some problems that will likely come with this transition:

  1. Analog signals travel better. While the term “digital” seems like it should mean “better”, it has a big downside. Analog tuners deal with missing data (the result of a poor signal) much better. Digital signals that do not have enough data quickly turn to jaggies and then a blank screen. This is sometimes referred to as a digital cliff effect. The same concept applies to HD Radio. Digital therefore does not travel as far as analog and it does not work as well through walls. Even in Arlington, Virginia, not far from the TV towers, a good signal usually requires an antenna to be placed in a window, on the roof, or in a high attic. People farther away will have more problems. Residents in rural Virginia might now be too far to get any over-the-air signal.
  2. Old homes in D.C., Virginia, and Maryland can not be easily wired for cable. The house walls might be made of concrete, brick, or stone that is difficult to wire through. This has caused some local residents to opt for analog over-the-air TV instead of cable or FIOS. Other people have decided to only wire their living room, and still use analog over-the-air in other rooms. The old construction can also cause problems running an antenna to a window, roof, or attic.

Possible Delay

The Obama team has requested a delay because the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which is to provide education and $40 vouchers for people to buy digital TV converter boxes, ran out of money on January 4. There is also concern that many people, especially poorer and more rural areas, have not yet heard that they will need a converter and a larger antenna.

Web Resources

To find out what kind of signal you can expect and what kind of antenna you need to get digital programs, see AntennaWeb site and click Choose an antenna. Another useful site is HDTV Hub, which lists many users experiences for their particular locations. You can find out through these sites what kind of over-the-air HDTV experience that you can expect.

Old School Hacker

Most high profile hacking today is for profit. The Russian mob and other criminal gangs are often involved in taking over computers, stealing credit cards, and threatening websites with denial-of-service attacks.

That’s why it was somewhat refreshing to see what a hacker did to Twitter yesterday, breaking into 33 celebrity accounts to leave messages on their behalf.

Here’s what CNN’s Rick Sanchez got:

Fox News got “Breaking: Bill O Riley is gay”.

There may have been some profit motive, as President Elect Barack Obama’s account was hacked to have a link to a site that offered a $500 gas card for taking a survey. The Facebook page on Twitter had a link to a porn site. Both sites had affiliate links associated with them, meaning that someone would be getting a referral fee.

The break-ins were tracked down to someone called Gmz from a site called Digital Gangster. It is not yet known if Twitter will pursue the matter legally. If money was made from affiliate accounts, it should be easy to track the person down. A post on the Digital Gangster said:

“That guy [who hacked the sites] must have been a very generous individual. To hand out accounts rather than use that for profit. Could it be enough for respect or just enough for that user to be identified as an “idiot”?”

Malicious Software Removal Tool (MSRT)

Microsoft recently reported that their Malicious Software Removal Tool (MSRT), which was included in Windows Updates on December 9, 2008, has now removed over 400,000 copies of the nefarious “Antivirus 2009”.

An Arlington, VA client was recently infected by that Antivirus 2009 malware. It has been the most pernicious malware that I have seen recently, as most users can be tricked into installing it. Many fake sites exist that you might find during a normal web search. The sites appear to be a standard Windows Control Panel page which pretends to search for and find viruses. If you click “Ok” or “Remove All” you will be infected.

It will eventually take away all administrative rights from you and ask for your credit card to update and remove the viruses. Of course, it never removes anything, but instead gives your credit card info to the bad guys to use as they wish. Your computer is also a zombie ready to do whatever they ask of it.

The problem is that the dialog boxes and alerts look just like legitimate ones that might appear from Microsoft. See the fake Antivirus 2009 alert above.

I mentioned another variant of this malware called Antivirus XP 2008 in an earlier post.

While there are other tools you could use, Microsoft’s Malicious Software Removal Tool (MSRT) is a real solution that will remove and protect the computer from this Malware. It is available as a critical update from Microsoft.

It is not always apparent how to run Microsoft’s Malicious Software Removal Tool (MSRT). If you have it installed, you can just go to Start – Run and they type mrt