Kilo Bits - Technology News

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Dell to carry AMD by September

It has officially been reported that Dell could be carrying AMD-powered desktops as soon as September. What does this mean for the computing world? This means that prices for Dell PC's will fall considerably, as if they weren't already cheap enough in price, and this also means that Intel will have to lower the prices on their chips to be able to compete with the cost-effective AMD solution.

This is something computer enthusiasts have been waiting for, and it is speculated that this sudden change in heart by Dell has been brought about by their recent acquisition of gaming PC manufacturer Alienware. This move has been speculated since the Alienware purchase, but sources quickly denied early rumors. Dell began slowly, by powering their servers with AMD processors, but now the rumors become fact, as Dell could have AMD processors in their desktops in as short as only three months.

Kilo Bits will keep you up to date on this development as more comes out.

Windows Vista Beta 2 - Good, Bad, or Ugly?

Last week, Microsoft released the long-awaited public beta of Windows Vista. Many people, including myself, were eager to download it. After installing it on two systems, it became quite apparent that Microsoft still has a long way to go in the development of Windows Vista.

The setup was remarkably easy - pop in the DVD, answer a couple of questions, and that's it. In about an hour's time, give or take, you'll be presented with the Vista user setup screen, followed immediately by the login screen. The interface is very nice, providing you have a graphics card powerful enough to run the Aero environment. The only downside is that it chews up a lot of memory. If you don't have at least one gigabyte of RAM in your machine, be prepared to experience slow-downs right off the bat. My test machine had 512 MB of RAM, and immediately following the initial boot-up, my RAM usage was through the roof, already exceeding the total amount of physical RAM in the machine.

The next step was the installation of programs. Firefox installed with no problems, and directly after that, I went to install AVG Anti-virus, however, Vista blocked that installation due to compatibility reasons. The Security Center recommended that I purchase an anti-virus solution, so instead, I downloaded ClamWin and disabled the security notifications for anti-virus.

Next was a game test. I pulled out one of my favorite games - NHL 06 - and installed it. There were no issues with the installation, and as expected, it did not land in the Game Library, but that's understandable. I went to run the game, but the menu was completely botched and impossible to navigate. I proceeded to run the game with every compatibility setting I could find, but that did not work. Granted, this is the only game I've tried, but numerous other people have commented on the fact that Vista's game compatibility is rather lacking.

Following that, I remembered that Vista had set up a boot menu, allowing me to boot into Vista or an "Earlier version of Windows", presumably my XP installation, which it had moved into a folder called "Windows.old" in the root of my hard drive. It had moved the Windows, Documents and Settings, and Program Files folders into that location, completely backing up all of my important files for me. I tried the "Earlier version of Windows" boot option, and my computer completely locked up. I tried it again - same result.

After that, I decided to try and find a way to remove Vista. I ended up inserting the Vista DVD and booting to it. Using Notepad's "Open" dialog box, I was able to delete the Vista files and folders (Windows, Users, Program Files, etc.) and move my old Windows install files back to the root of the drive. From there, I took my XP CD, fixed the master boot record, and rebooted. From there, everything played nice again.

It's apparent that Vista still has a while to go before they can call it stable. Granted, this is a beta, but releasing such a buggy build to the public will only hurt Microsoft. Microsoft has a lot to fix by the time they release the final version. I hesitate to call Beta 2 good, but at the same time, I also hesitate to call it completely ugly. All that's left is "bad", but there is a glimmer of hope. Microsoft is still Microsoft, and contrary to popular belief, they do know how to release a stable product when all is said and done. We'll just have to see what happens.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Windows Genuine Advantage - How far will it go?

Over the course of the past five years, Microsoft has made attempts to crack down on software piracy, namely the piracy of their own products. This is understandable, considering that Microsoft owns a staggering amount of the PC market between the Windows OS and Office suite, which is also available for the Macintosh platform, but how far is too far?

Microsoft initiated Windows Product Activation with the release of Office XP, a mandatory process that many people found as more of a hassle than anything, but these were Microsoft's baby steps. Product Activation trickled down into Windows XP, once again, providing the end user with a mandatory activation process, or else the product would be rendered virtually useless. Those who had legal copies, naturally, complied. Those who didn't found ways around it, and it did not take long, for both Office XP and Windows XP.

Hackers are always quick to the scene, and key generators and leaked volume license keys quickly flooded the Internet. Cracks to avoid the product activation were created to allow those with illegal keys unlimited access to the product. It seemed like Microsoft was beaten, though they did make valiant attempts to block the installation of their service packs if an illegal key was detected. Once more, this concept was understandable, and at the same time, it was beaten.

It wasn't until fairly recently that Microsoft decided to truly crack down on software piracy. The Windows Genuine Advantage program was started, and it initally began as a voluntary process for people to opt-in and validate their copy of Windows to receive downloads from Microsoft. Soon, this process became mandatory and even began to affect the usage of Windows Updates. Those who failed the Windows Genuine Advantage validation were steered away from the Windows Update site and presented with an error message stating that the OS was pirated. Once more, this was defeated by hackers, and Microsoft was forced to update their counter-attack. As it stands, some are still successful at bypassing it, while others cannot get around it.

The latest update in Microsoft's anti-piracy battle is now the Windows Genuine Advantage Notification tool. This controversial tool is being passed off as a security update and can be installed on your machine via the Windows Update site or Automatic Updates. You do have the option to not install it, but the average user will install it and blindly accept the EULA. This tool will then periodically display pop-up messages if your copy of Windows is deemed illegal. The controversial part, though, is that this tool phones home to Microsoft. With what information, you might ask? According to Microsoft's web site, Windows validation does not collect any personal information, but nothing is noted about the notification tool.

A Microsoft representative said that when the WGA Notifications checks in with Microsoft when a PC is booted, it is not providing any information to the vendor if a PC's copy of Windows has already been validated. Instead, it is checking with a "server-side configuration setting to determine if WGA should run or not." The check-in also gives Microsoft the ability to disable the WGA program, if necessary.

Why should this tool transmit any data at all? If its purpose is to inform the end user of a possible case of software piracy, then that should be the extent of the application. There is no purpose in "checking in" with Microsoft. To Kilo Bit, this sounds very much like the activity of a spyware application - the transmission of data to an unknown server,
albeit, the destination is Microsoft, not Claria or Zango, but the idea is the same.

Why should end users have to deal with Microsoft spyware on top of everything else one may be infected with? Kilo Bit understands Microsoft's standpoint in trying to crack down on software piracy, but there has to be less obtrusive ways to accomplish the same task.

As noted in the above article, the WGA Notification tool can be disabled through Automatic Updates, but once it is installed, you cannot uninstall it, unless you want to jump through a few hoops. If you choose to do so, Kilo Bit recommends this method of uninstallation.

So now the question is "Should I install this update?"

Kilo Bit's answer is "No". Even if you have a legal copy of Windows, why should you have a program installed that transmits information about your machine back to Microsoft every time you boot your machine? We don't, so we have not installed this update. The final decision, though, is up to you.


Welcome to Kilo Bits

Welcome to the Kilo Bits Technology News blog. Here, we will take a look at various happenings around the technological world and provide you with our take on these various topics. We will try to make at least one post per week, but as with most anything, nothing can be guaranteed. Check in daily, however, to make sure that you will be up to date in the ever changing technology world.

Our first real post will be later this evening, once we have managed to give this page the look and feel we desire. Stay tuned.