Make Windows XP look like Windows Vista

You might think I’m crazy, but possibly my favorite thing about Vista is that it’s black and glossy. You’ve got to admit that Vista is an attractive looking OS! In comparison, Windows XP just looks terrible. The first thing I usually do is switch the default blue theme to the silver one. Even still, I have often longed for something better.

Recently, I came across BricoPack Vista Inspirat Ultimate 2. Quite the mouthful, but it’s really quite simple – download and install it, and it transforms your desktop into a Vista theme. Normally I wouldn’t give something like this a second glance, but I was feeling particularly curious one day, so I tried it. Of course, I created a restore point first, and I strongly recommend you do the same (here are the instructions). I didn’t run into any problems though.

I have to say, I love what Vista Inspirat did. My taskbar and windows are black and look like Vista. The “Start” menu has been replaced with the Windows orb. The icons, cursors, and sounds all mimic Vista. Two small programs run in the background to provide extra effects – Y’z Shadow adds a nice border and drop shadow to windows, and UberIcon provides some nifty animation for navigation. And best of all, I haven’t noticed any performance issues. The only two problems I have are that the user icon doesn’t show up in the start menu (it’s just a white box, big deal) and that “screen artifacts” appear somewhat more regularly (you know, parts of a window not refreshing right away). Otherwise it’s great!

One thing to note is that Vista Inspirat includes a utility called RocketDock, but it is an out-of-date version. I’d definitely upgrade to the latest version as it is more stable and includes some useful new features. RocketDock is pure eye-candy:

Looks like Mac OS X! It works quite well as an application launcher though. All you need to do is drag shortcuts or files to the dock.

One other thing you might need is the UxTheme Patcher, which enables you to install custom themes like Vista Inspirat. I say might need, because I already had it installed, so am not sure if it is strictly required. Here’s the download if you have Windows XP SP3.

Have fun, but be careful – backup anything important and make a restore point first!

Windows XP Service Pack 3 (SP3) RTM

windows It’s official, Windows XP SP3 has finally been released to manufacturing. An announcement was quietly made today on the TechNet XP forum:

Today we are happy to announce that Windows XP Service Pack 3 (SP3) has released to manufacturing (RTM). Windows XP SP3 bits are now working their way through our manufacturing channels to be available to OEM and Enterprise customers.

The update will be available at Windows Update and on the Microsoft Download site on April 29th. It will be pushed out via Automatic Updates starting June 10th. MSDN and TechNet subscribers should have access to the download later today.

There isn’t a lot of new functionality in SP3, but it’ll definitely be nice to avoid having to download dozens of updates after a fresh install of XP with SP2. Here’s a list of some of the included improvements.

Keep an eye on the Windows XP site for updates. There’s more commentary at Techmeme.

Video Stuff: Vlog Blind Date, Mesh 07 Contest, Soar & Wow

Post ImageHere are a few interesting video-related posts I have come across in the last day or so:

Vlog Blind Date
This is a really funny and well done video featuring Justine Ezarik. She goes on a blind date with…it’s a surprise! You have to watch to find out. The video was made to promote JumpCut from the looks of things (and with their help, evidently).

The mesh Video Contest
Want to go to mesh for free? Have a talent for creating great video? Then this contest is for you! All you’ve got to do is submit a video that captures the essence of Web 2.0 – “whatever that means to you.” If you win, you get flown to Toronto for free, with the hotel and conference tickets all taken care of. It’s a pretty sweet deal.

Comparing “Soar” and “Wow”
In this post, Long Zheng takes a look at two commercials: one for Windows XP, and one for Windows Vista. It’s quite amazing how different they are. While both are good, I think the Windows XP one is better.

Internet Explorer 7 RC1

Post ImageInternet Explorer 7 Release Candidate 1 was released today by Microsoft. This is supposed to be the last test release before the final version of IE7 is made public, though more release candidates could be added depending on the feedback Microsoft recieves. I hope someone from Microsoft reads this post.

I just installed the browser, and had nothing but problems. Compared to beta 3, the installation for RC1 was a total nightmare. I downloaded the setup, closed all my programs (knowing I’d have to restart), and launched the setup. It did its thing for a while, then said I needed to restart, so I did. Upon restarting, Windows XP did something in the DOS-like blue window before the login screen, then booted normally. Right after logging in, the setup opened again (which required me to click Yes on the security box because the file came from the Internet). Almost immediately, svchost and the Generic Process Service crashed. I had to kill the setup as it was then stalled (no CPU activity whatsoever), and launch it again. After a second restart, the browser was installed properly.

After the first restart, when the processes crashed, my audio didn’t load (I only noticed because Skype popped up an error message). That was fine after the second restart. Worse though, is that something happened to my external hard drive. Maybe it was just a coincidence that it happened at the same time as the install, maybe not, but Windows thinks the drive needs to be formatted. I am currently running chkdsk on it now, and it’s found a bunch of unreadable segments. I can’t imagine that the IE setup would have touched the drive, but you never know. I didn’t have anything on the drive that I couldn’t afford to lose, but still, it’s very annoying. I’m hoping chkdsk will fix it (it’s fixed a ton of errors so far it appears…and as I type this, I see that chkdsk just encountered an unspecified error…so much for fixing it…).

Other than that, I really like IE7. It does a great job of rendering CSS and the other standards (in my opinion) and RC1 feels much faster at loading pages than beta 3. Perhaps my only complaint right now is the find feature (CRTL-F). Why doesn’t IE7 have the inline search that Firefox and Opera have? That stupid, useless little find box feels so 1996.

Overall though, I quite like IE7.

UPDATE: I ran chkdsk one more time, just for kicks, and it seems to have fixed everything! As I said I didn’t need anything on the drive, but there were a few things I wouldn’t have minded keeping. I am now copying them to network storage, just in case the drive dies again.

Meet the Ultra-Mobile PC

Post ImageThe picture is now pretty clear on what Origami is and isn’t, and what the goals for the project are. Judging from some of the comments out in the blogosphere, lots of people are disappointed after the device was so well-hyped. I guess that was to be expected – the hype was almost at “Apple levels”! I am just disappointed with the battery life, but otherwise, Origami seems pretty cool. First, Engadget explains what Origami is:

Origami is a term originated from [Microsoft’s Otto] Berkes that doesn’t necessarily refer to a device or specific hardware specification, per se, but to an ultramobile PC running Windows Tablet (or Vista, later) and enhanced Microsoft Touch Pack (a suite of apps and utilities meant to optimize using Windows by touch, and not necessarily only by stylus).

Sounds like the official name of the device is “Ultra-Mobile PC” (or UMPC), which now has a website up at Microsoft.com. So what the heck is an Ultra-Mobile PC? Here’s how Microsoft describes it:

The Ultra-Mobile PC is a new kind of computer. It combines the power of Windows XP with mobile-ready technologies that make it easy to access and use your software on the go.

With small, lightweight, carry-everywhere hardware designs, you can connect and communicate, accomplish any task anywhere and at any time, and be entertained and informed wherever life takes you.

Marketing fluff yes, but also helpful in trying to understand the goal. Seems to me that the UMPC is sort of the evolution and merger of the laptop, the tablet pc, and the pocket pc. Actually, I think the UMPC is a replacement for the Pocket PC more than anything. The fact is, I’d much rather have my tablet with me than a pocket computer, because I can do anything on my tablet. The UMPC changes things, giving me a smaller form factor without sacrificing capability.

Basically, I think the UMPC is a great idea. If it had better battery life, ran Windows Vista, and was cheaper, I’d definitely be trying to get one. Hopefully the devices improve over the next year or so. Not everyone thinks the UMPC is a great idea though, like Om Malik:

So finally Microsoft Origami (or what it would be) has been brought to light… and my first reaction, for crying out loud, yet another digital device?

My view on any new digital and mobile device is that – both Microsoft and Intel – should stop thinking Windows and try developing a new platform.

I don’t know, Windows has done pretty darn well as a platform so far! Let’s hope Vista will really deliver in the mobile and power areas to make these devices even better.

If you want to see the device in action, Channel 9 has a 37 minute video with the architect. Jupiter Research analyst Michael Gartenberg has a really good early review up too. Oh, and if you were keeping track of the Origami website, week 3 is now up and they have a new community site too.

Origami Revealed!

Post ImageEngadget has lots of cool news and pictures on the Origami devices today:

So we managed to get our hands on a Samsung Q1 / Origami device set to roll tomorrow here at CeBIT. Don’t ask how, but it’ll be awhile before we recover from the brutal caning we just received. From the five minutes we spent with it we can tell you, well, it’s an XP Tablet PC with a 7-inch display. Sorry, that’s about it, nothing earth-shattering here folks.

Okay, so the description doesn’t sound cool, but go take a look at the pictures! There’s a few more at CNET News.com too.

A later post reveals that the UI for the device has been found on the CeBIT website, and it includes pictures of a circular keyboard meant for thumb typing. Interesting idea, but I wonder how it works in practice.

Read: Engadget

Origami running Windows XP? Why not Vista?

Post ImageToday is the day we found out a few more details about Microsoft’s secretive Origami Project. The gadget has been a popular topic in the blogosphere lately, with lots of speculation on what it is and what it is not. According to CNET News.com, the device is a mini tablet running Windows XP:

Microsoft refused to go into details, but offered up a statement saying: “As promised on the OrigamiProject.com website, we are offering more details today about Origami, including that it is a new category of mobile PCs that will run Windows XP. We’re excited to share more information with you on March 9.”

The device isn’t anything real new – Microsoft bigwigs like Gates and Ballmer have talked about such devices in the past. What is new is that we’re close to seeing such a device, and not just a concept. But running Windows XP? In the year of Windows Vista? What a wasted opportunity.

Most experts and analysts did not expect a device like Origami any time soon, and I most certainly did not, so there’s no reason to think that Microsoft had to rush its development. So why run Windows XP? The largest challenge facing Microsoft in the next couple of years is articulating to people why they should upgrade to Windows Vista. Why wouldn’t you have a new, interesting, and easy-to-talk-about device like Origami run the latest and greatest to show off what Vista is capable of? Price point for the device maybe, but still. Imagine Vista running on Origami. The early adopters buy them, and take them everywhere they go, exposing more and more people to Windows Vista. More people are going to feel they need Windows Vista if they see it in action, in the real world, than if they see an advertisement.

I think Windows XP is a great operating system, but this new device is a great opportunity to drum up interest in and support for Windows Vista. Why waste it?

Read: CNET News.com

No SP3 for Windows XP until late 2007

Post ImageI’m not sure this date will remain final, but Microsoft has announced that the release date for Windows XP Service Pack 3 is not until the second half of 2007. Apparently most people anticipated having SP3 a lot sooner than that:

Microsoft also has published “latter half of 2006” as the tentative release date for the second service pack for Windows Server 2003. The “preliminary” due date for Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 2 (SP2) date jibes with what industry experts were expecting.

Microsoft has not made public an official list of planned fixes (and new features, if any) that will be part of either the Windows Server 2003 SP2 or Windows XP SP3 releases.

I realize that SP3 is important for business customers who aren’t going to upgrade, but I will for sure be running Windows Vista by the time XPSP3 is released. That said, the best part of these news stories isn’t future planning but spreading rumors:

Microsoft officials attributed some of the delays in Longhorn/Windows Vista to SP2. Officials claimed the company’s decision to reassign developers working on Vista to finishing and testing SP2 had a negative impact on Vista’s schedule.

It is unclear if Microsoft is pushing back SP3’s delivery date in order to avoid a similar negative impact on Vista’s schedule. It’s also unclear whether Microsoft may be holding back SP3 in order to help stimulate upgrade demand for Vista.

True or not, there will undoubtedly be a “respectable” media outlet or two that will pick up on that as fact.

I guess when you think about it, 2007 is a long time though. If Vista really does ship this year like Microsoft says, I’d almost expect a service pack for it to be released in the second half of 2007. As I mentioned earlier today, I think Windows XP SP2 is pretty solid – maybe the “way out there” release date for SP3 is simply a reflection of that?! Not that you’d ever read that in the media.

Read: Microsoft Watch

Another misleading headline

Post ImageI took a quick look at the headlines on CNET News.com, and one in particular caught my eye. The story is titled “Windows Wi-Fi vulnerability discovered“, and given that I use wireless networks all the time, I decided I should take a look. Here’s how the article describes the problem:

When a PC running Windows XP or Windows 2000 boots up, it will automatically try to connect to a wireless network. If the computer can’t set up a wireless connection, it will establish an ad hoc connection to a local address. This is assigned with an IP address and Windows associates this address with the SSID of the last wireless network it connected to.

The machine will then broadcast this SSID, looking to connect with other computers in the immediate area.

The idea is that a hacker could then connect to the computer and compromise it. All of that I understand. Yet as I was reading this, I kept thinking to myself, “that’s not what happens when there are no wireless networks.” I don’t experience what is described above! Then I realized why.

A full nine paragraphs into the story:

MessageLabs believes that users running Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) are not at risk.

There’s no way they could have mentioned that earlier? All this kind of story does is spread needless FUD about Windows. If you have a properly updated machine, you’re fine! Not only that, but any firewall (like the one built-in to XP and enabled by default in SP2) would prevent any such problem.

If nothing else, I hope Windows Vista is regarded as secure, so that I don’t have to put up with articles such as this one. No matter your religious affiliation, the current Windows stuff is pretty solid. And no matter what operating system you use, if you don’t keep it properly updated, you do so at your own risk!

Read: CNET News.com