Uber Workstation: Windows Vista vs. Windows Server 2008

by Jon Davis 25. February 2008 12:08

I have always been adamant that as a web developer it is far better to use Windows Server 2003 rather than Windows XP as your primary workstation. This view became necessary primarily because Windows XP had a stripped-down set of IIS services, namely it was IIS 5.0 rather than IIS 6.0, and it was constrained to not allow multiple virtual hosts on the same machine. This made XP worthless; being a web developer, having the process forced down my throat of building entire web applications as "subwebs" made things infinitely more difficult to develop against. For example, you could never have a simple hyperlink that starts with a slash ("/"). You had to build everything around the ASP/ASP.NET coding model of application root ("~/"), which required you to move all of your hyperlinks to server-side code (<asp:Hyperlink>, or <img src="<%= ResolveUrl("~/") %>images/bleah.gif">).

No more. Windows Vista has multiple web server support. Microsoft perhaps got tired of basically every web developer on the planet expressing their animosity towards the Windows team for their crippling of IIS without even so much as an alternate "IIS add-on for MSDN Universal subscribers" or something. It's full-blown IIS 7, same as in Windows Server 2008.

Now that Windows Server 2008 is released, the inevitable questions should be asked (rather than the answers assumed based on prior experience with XP / 2003): does Windows Server 2008 have any new features that Windows Vista doesn't have, that a typical ASP.NET web developer would want on his workstation, and does Windows Vista have any undesirable features that are not present in Windows Server 2008 that cannot be removed from Vista?

While the answer to both of these questions were "yes" in XP/2003, for Vista/2008 I think the general answer to both of these questions, I believe, is "no".

In Windows 2008 there are a gajillion new services that the next wave of Internet technologies will need on hand for regular development. For developers of one of these next-gen technologies, Server 2008 might be essential. But for basic ASP.NET and WCF development (in other words, for most web developers), Vista can suffice.

And 2008 doesn't really filter out anything from the Vista experience except for the fact that the Vista experience is an option rather than mandatory. That's nice; but if it's going to be used for a workstation, it makes sense to just add it. Only problem is, it's not a complete Vista experience; you don't get the sidebar, for instance, and Call of Duty 4 crashes on a co-worker / friend who agreed to be a Windows Server 2008-as-a-workstation guinea pig. And to be honest, I feel a lot more uncomfortable with all the undesirable new bells and whistles of Server 2008 being available to my workstation than with them missing from a Vista environment.

The only features I saw in Server 2008 that I didn't see in Vista that might be worth something to me were: Multipath I/O, TCP port sharing, and hypervisor (native virtualization) support (which is still in beta). Actually, Vista might have the first two of the three, I don't recall. But I already have VMWare Workstation, which I continue to prefer over that awful Virtual PC platform. Meanwhile, pretty much all of the other stuff, while some of it may be valuable, it's all so server-oriented and not development-oriented that it would make more sense to move that stuff to a VM or external environment anyway.

So my tentative conclusion is that Vista Ultimate is already the ideal environment for a web developer. With it, you have all the basics that you need to build multiple IIS solutions and to test basic WCF solutions. Meanwhile you get to keep the fluff you like (and I do like some fluff on my workstation, gimme Sidebar and stuff), while you can still kill off the fluff you don't like.

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Operating Systems | Microsoft Windows

Beyond Disabling UAC: Enable Networkable Admin Access

by Jon Davis 6. February 2008 12:34

Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008 both disable administrative access when accessing via a network. So all those administrative things you're used to doing, like accessing an administrative share (\\machinename\D$) have to be thrown out when you use Vista or Server 2008.

However, you can bring it back, Windows XP / 2003 style. The key is in the registry, at KHLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Policies\System. Add a DWORD value named LocalAccountTokenFilterPolicy with a value of 1. Reboot.

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Microsoft Windows

Speed Up The Windows Vista Start Menu

by Jon Davis 2. September 2007 01:27

I've been installing a lot of stuff on my new laptop, and I've found that trying to simply reach the shortcut to most of my stuff in the Start menu takes about twenty to thirty seconds--about five seconds per click. This was getting really rediculous. I did a Google search and found this ..

 http://channel9.msdn.com/ShowPost.aspx?PostID=259355

The solution was to change the properties for the start menu (right click the Start button, choose Properties, and with the Start Menu tab selected click the Customize button) so that "Highlight newly installed programs" is deselected.

I do actually like the highlights, but a) there's no real use for it when 95% of the gajillion things I've just installed ... has just been installed, and b) why on Earth doesn't Microsoft cache and optimize this stuff? We're talking about the Start menu here! The most visible part of Windows for ALL of its users!

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Computers and Internet | Microsoft Windows

Pimping Out My Satellite

by Jon Davis 24. August 2007 00:10

I decided to buy a laptop to replace the cheap one I had bought at Wal-Mart about ten months ago. It was a rare (read: unpopular) Acer laptop. It was just a cheap $700 thing (could sell now for $500-600 new), and I upgraded the RAM and hard drive but my biggest problem with it was that the screen size and resolution was just too small and weak. The 'O' key on the keyboard thing fell off while I was typing. It's still under warranty and still out getting its free repair. It took me several months for me to get around to sending it because it was still usable. I prefer to use a laptop for everyday home use (even though I've got a couple desktop machines sitting around at home, I like using the laptop while the TV is in view, not to mention the obvious need to take it with me on the road and to the office). With that 'O' key missing, I was still able to use it by pressing into the little hole there, which is why it took so long for me to get around to sending it off for repair, but it was awkward enough that I simply didn't use the laptop hardly at all.

Due to some handy alignment of the moons and stars, credit, and cash, I was able to have an almost unlimited budget for a replacement, on the expectation that I will sell my obsoleted laptop along with some other stuff. I definitely wanted to spend four digits on an upgrade laptop, and I wanted something that I could depend on more regularly that would be performant, high memory, and plenty of hard drive space. Since I'm a gamer, I was also looking for DirectX 10 support. I was looking at the revised XPS line of Dell laptops, namely the Dell XPS M1330, but as handy as ultraportables are I like big keyboards and I especially wanted to get a high resolution display (in the 1600 pixel range for width), and the Dell XPS M1710 looked too similar (or was the same model as) a co-worker's machine (I like to be somewhat unique), and the Dell XPS M2010 isn't really a laptop, nor a "portable desktop replacement" so much as a full-blown desktop PC with a handle.

There's a Fry's Electronics not far from where I work, so at the end of the day yesterday (Wednesday) I went over there to see if they had anything interesting. I wasn't impressed; everything they have--everything almost everyone has, it seems--is either expensive, useless mini-gizmo gadgetry like the Sony UX Micro PC or just a bunch of cheap low-end consumer stuff in the $500-900 range. But out of three or four aisles and forty or so laptop models, they did have five or six mid-range to high-end consumer PCs. And I wasn't impressed with them, either, except that one of them really kept drawing me. It was a Toshiba Satellite X205-S9359, selling about $500-1000 over my planned price range, but the more I looked at it the more I felt compelled to consider it. Besides looking absolutely stunning on its own, the bulleted list of features on the display decals had me raising my eyebrows:

  • 1680 x 1050 resolution WSXGA TruBrite display @ 17 inches
    • this is perfect; Dell's high-end laptops have had even greater resolutions but just too small, making me squint
  • Intel Core 2 Duo processor (T7300)
  • GeForce 8700M GT (DirectX 10 compatible) with 512MB VRAM
  • 320GB hard drive space (two drives)
  • 1GB/s LAN
  • .. and some other, rather expensive stuff I didn't care about like ..
    • HD DVD-ROM
    • USB HD TV Tuner
    • 4 Harman Kardon Speakers with subwoofer
    • Dolby Home Theater technology
    • Built-in webcam
    • HDMI output
    • firewire / IEEE 1394
    • fingerprint scanner
    • 2GB RAM
    • Bluetooth

Since I already have an Xbox 360 with the HD-DVD add-on, and I have an external HD TV tuner that I bought at a recent CompUSA going out of business sale and I'm not using it, and I have an extra webcam lying around, and I knew I wanted to upgrade the RAM to 4GB which meant eBaying the 2GB, and I have no need for fingerprint security, it seemed to be an obvious waste of money. But I bought it anyway, because the processor, display resolution, future-readiness of the gaming graphics, and keyboard quality could not have been more perfect. Nobody else hit the nail on the head so perfectly from what I could tell, except for HP. I could've gone with HP. I didn't because this one was right here, I could put my hands on it, plus I could buy a RAM upgrade to 4GB while there at Fry's.

The hard drive speed is the only other option that needed an upgrade. 5600 RPM is faster than 4200 RPM but it's still slow, and I can feel it. Hitachi has a 200GB 7200 RPM drive, and this laptop supports two drives, so I bought two of those Hitachi's today over the Internet. I'll eBay the 5600 RPM drives after the 7200 RPM drives arrive.

Since 4 GB upgraded RAM requires Windows Vista 64-bit to use all 4GB (you can use the /3GB switch, but that is prone to running out of user resources due to device hardware address space utilizing the upper registers of RAM), the new question becomes, does Toshiba support it? After all, at this point the only scenarios when Windows Vista 64-bit does not work for most people is the lack of hardware driver support. Fortunately, for the most part most OEM hardware vendors have caught up with the demand for 64-bit drivers; this was not true just months ago, but seems to be true now. Unfortunately, however, Toshiba is not among those vendors.

None of the drivers that Toshiba provides on their support web site for the Satellite X205-S9359 are even labeled as 32-bit, yet they are all essentially 32-bit. It's almost like they are living in some kind of wacky dreamland where 64-bit operating systems don't even exist so there's no reason to differentiate the downloads. This is ironic, because the Toshiba hardware (Core 2 Duo) fully supports a x64 operating system, despite the lack of drivers.

On the other hand, many of the downloads that Toshiba's support web site provides are OEM software packages that are dual format 32-bit & 64-bit. I was able to get the essentials installed, but the video card drivers--the most important driver after the LAN driver--had to be obtained here: http://www.laptopvideo2go.com/forum/index.php?showforum=66. This had me uncomfortable, of course, as I posted here: http://community.compuserve.com/n/pfx/forum.aspx?webtag=ws-laptop&nav=messages&tid=82942. Even so, I have full resolution with Aero support, and Lord of the Rings Online at maximum quality settings looks absolutely stunning.

Among the hardware devices on the laptop that I noticed are working with Vista 64-bit:

  • video adapter (using the laptopvideo2go.com drivers) and Direct3D support
  • LAN
  • audio
  • webcam (full software install worked)

 Among the drivers that wouldn't install or don't seem to be configured correctly in Vista 64-bit:

  • the fingerprint scanner / software, despite the same version being available in 64-bit format for purchase at the OEM manufacturer's web site
  • one or two of the Intel chipset driver installers
  • Bluetooth software wouldn't detect the hardware

Not yet tested:

  • HD-DVD playback
  • HDMI output
  • Wireless LAN
  • DirectX 10 functionality on the video card
  • TV tuner

 UPDATE: To follow-up, among the "not yet tested" list, these proved to work:

- Wireless LAN
- DirectX 10 functionality (using laptopvideo2go.com drivers)

.. and these proved not to work:

- HD-DVD playback
- TV tuner

I'll have to reinstall everything when my hard drive upgrades arrive, but so far the test run seems to be going successfully. There's a 15-day return policy at Fry's that I expected to take advantage of, but I am feeling more and more confident that there will be no need to return it. But on a side note, one additional disappointment is that there is NO media / restore disc provided with the laptop, so if you're not as self-sufficient as I am with my MSDN software access to Windows Ultimate, etc., you'll have to plan on going through hassle-channels rather than fetching a disc. First thing I did was use the "back up my computer" function in Windows Vista so I can restore the system to the original configuration (and I backed up to the second hard drive). But except for Windows itself, the software including bloatware was available from Toshiba's web site.

With my basic (even if costly) customizations, this is by far the most expensive computer purchase I have ever made in my life. That said, though, it's also going to be the coolest and most versatile gaming and software development workstation PC I've ever had.


 

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About the author

Jon Davis (aka "stimpy77") has been a programmer, developer, and consultant for web and Windows software solutions professionally since 1997, with experience ranging from OS and hardware support to DHTML programming to IIS/ASP web apps to Java network programming to Visual Basic applications to C# desktop apps.
 
Software in all forms is also his sole hobby, whether playing PC games or tinkering with programming them. "I was playing Defender on the Commodore 64," he reminisces, "when I decided at the age of 12 or so that I want to be a computer programmer when I grow up."

Jon was previously employed as a senior .NET developer at a very well-known Internet services company whom you're more likely than not to have directly done business with. However, this blog and all of jondavis.net have no affiliation with, and are not representative of, his former employer in any way.

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