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Windows 7 Initial Impressions

Dan gave me a copy of Windows 7 to try out. Since I was having trouble with my installation of Windows XP, it didn’t take much to motivate me to try out the new, widely heralded Operating System from Microsoft.

Installation was easy and fast, just like I had heard. The UI is very responsive and looks nice (although I haven’t yet figured out how to make the window borders slightly thinner — advice would be welcome). The OS overall feels well-done and new, yet familiar enough that I don’t feel lost in a foreign world.

I set about installing a bunch of my most important apps — first Firefox, IrfanView, and Cygwin. This is when I ran into the first major problem that I have with Windows 7. In my previous version of XP, I had achieved what I considered the perfect blend of Windows and Linux functionality: cygwin running an ssh server that I accessed via PuTTY, just as I would access any remote server, such as nexus, attu, or frankenputen.

The coup de grace was the fact that I could launch Windows GUI programs from the ssh process — normally not achievable, but when the sshd service is allowed to “interact with the desktop”, then wonderful things such as KDiff3 working seamlessly with mercurial is possible on Windows. It was basically a perfect development setup for me.

I planned on setting up the same thing with Windows 7, and by following a tutorial about setting up the Cygwin SSHd service on Windows Server 2003, I was able to get almost all the way there. However, there is one key difference between XP and Windows 7: For security reasons, the System User is not allowed to setuid, which means that the Cygwin SSH server can not run as System anymore. There is an easy workaround for this — just set up a new privileged user, and run sshd under those credentials. However, it turns out that only the system user has an option to allow services to interact with the desktop.

This means that the perfect setup I had achieved earlier is effectively impossible on Windows 7. I’m pretty sure that this is an edge case that Microsoft has no plans on doing anything about in the near-term because it will affect almost no one. So the question then becomes, what does Windows 7 give me that Windows XP did not?

This machine has 4GB of RAM, but even if I can only access 3.5 under XP, that was good enough for everything I was doing. I think I’ll give Windows 7 another day, and unless I find a compelling reason to keep it, I’ll just do a fresh install of XP, which probably would have fixed the blank screen problem anyway.

At any rate, there are a few other things that I really like about Windows 7: The text box in the start menu is genius. It does exactly what it should, as far as I can tell. The UI really is pretty. The Wireless connection tools are much better than XP. It is a good OS, but I’m not sure it is so much better than XP that it will compell me to stick with it.

Instant Update!!

While writing this post, I remembered seeing something called PuttyCyg, which allows one to use putty as the front-end of Cygwin, which was the main thing I was trying to do anyway; this may be the solution to all of my problems.

Silverfir.net Semi-Scheduled Downtime

Silverfir.net is up for some big changes in the near future. Dan has ordered up a new system, and I brought a couple of 750 gb hard drives from nexus back from California  (although one of them is throwing errors and probably won’t be used). In the end, the yet-to-be-named server will take over the primary web serving duties for silverfir.net.

The switchover process will start tomorrow, when silverfir.net’s web service will go down while the current server, Frankenputen, is moved to Dan’s place, where it will be easier to sync with the new server. During this move, barring some sort of amazing in-car power and internet source, silverfir.net will be inaccessible. Most likely, it will be down for a few daytime hours tomorrow, so don’t be too shocked if you can’t access it for a while.

Super Long Initial Log-In Time Resolved!

For at least a little while — perhaps a few months — my laptop computer has taken an enormous amount of time to log in after a fresh boot. In other words, after restarting, from the time I hit <Enter> after typing my password to the time I would see my desktop icons was nearly 3 minutes. After this, the computer would behave normally, as if nothing had happened and all was well. This is, of course, ridiculous, but I mostly ignored the problem because I rarely ever rebooted the computer, opting instead for sleeping or hibernating and then resuming, which remained quick.

However, another problem very recently began — I would return to my computer to find an illuminated, but otherwise blank, screen. This seemed to happen when the computer would wake up automatically from sleep to enter hibernation, but only occasionally at that. When this happened, multiple bad things were happening. First, the computer wasn’t turned off, or even sleeping, so it was consuming battery at a high rate. Second, I could not get the screen to display anything or respond in a meaningful manner. The only solution I found was to hard restart the laptop, which is ugly, but more importantly, it made the earlier problem  (the long log-in times) suddenly very important and much more annoying, because I was finding myself rebooting (unhappily) a lot more.

I googled and searched and tested and scratched my head, all to no avail. I tried rebooting with Bootvis, which wasn’t able to provide any useful new information. Basically all I learned was that explorer was taking 94 seconds to load, but not why. Since there was no apprent disk activity or processor activity during this time, a timeout came to mind, but I didn’t know what else to do after spening a few hours trying to figure it out. This is when I mentioned the problem to my dad, who suggested that I look at the event viewer. I had used the event viewer before, but it hadn’t occurred to me to use it to try to fix this problem.

I followed his advice, and that very quickly set me on the right path to solving the long log-in time problem. The event viewer reported one error among many pieces of other information, and the time it happened was around the time I had logged in. The error stated, “The Windows Image Acquisition (WIA) service hung on starting.” Googling that very quickly led me to the right information: disabling the auto-start-up of the WIA service immediately solved the long-log in problem.

It remains to be seen if the blank screen problem was related (unlikely), or if it will go away of its own accord (also unlikely), but solving one piece of the puzzle sure feels good. Thanks dad!