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Welcome to the world of Vista - Duncan Evans and the ePHOTOzine members put James O'Neill from Microsoft in the hot seat.
To start this feature, we're going to let James explain who he is and what Vista is all about. Then we move on to the question and answer session where all your concerns were put to him.
Who am I and what do I do?
I got into computers at school and went on to do a degree in computer science although I probably spent more time on photography even then. I’ve worked in IT all of my career, I joined Microsoft Consulting Services in 2000 after running a small training company. I moved over to being an evangelist last year. Most people’s contact with Microsoft is 1:1 with either sales or services (consulting or support). I deal with people in groups at events, in user groups and I keep a blog. My work focuses on showing those audiences how they can do more with what they’ve bought or to starting them thinking about new products. I own about 20 cameras – most of which are roll film cameras from the 1920s, but most of my shots are taken with a Pentax DSLR. I’ve just upgraded my *ist D to a K10D.
The Welcome screen shows info and offers help with a variety of tasks.
It’s the new version of Windows for Desktop, Laptop and home PCs. It’s the biggest change to Windows since Windows 2000 came out, and at the same time as shipping Vista we’re shipping a new version of Office and our business E-mail server, Exchange. This is why people are saying this is our most significant release since Windows 95.
Everyone notices that it has a new look – a lot of which relies on the abilities of modern graphics cards which simply weren’t there when XP was being designed. So there’s a lot of use of transparency (glass) and live previews of what is happening in a Window before you switch to it.
Exploiting hardware is a bit of theme of Vista, you can plug in USB memory and use it to improve performance, and the operating system supports the new hybrid hard disks which contain flash memory to avoid spinning the disk up for a lot of operations. With 64-bit chips becoming more common, there isn’t a separate 64-bit product with Vista – all its editions (or SKUs – stock keeping units – as we tend to call them) are licensed for either 64 or 32-bit processors. If you have a 64-bit chip but can only get 32-bit drivers for some of your hardware you can start on 32-bit and switch to 64-bit later without needing a new license. XP had a separate 64-bit version – and a 32-bit Pro version, Pro version, a Home Version, a tablet version and a media centre version. Vista still has five SKUs - two home, two business versions and has an Ultimate edition which contains all the features of both, but it allows for things like a tablet PC which is used at home with media functions.
We’ve also provided an online upgrade process, so if your computer comes with Home-Basic edition installed you can upgrade to Ultimate if you want. Behind all this is a new installation process which makes it much easier for major customers to control what’s on their PC. Security has a higher profile with these customers, and they wanted more control over the USB devices that can be used and how machines behave with different wireless networks – another area where the hardware landscape has changed over recent years.
When we started work on Windows XP, DVD burners were pretty unusual, and digital cameras were still for the early adopters. Now both are mainstream, so we have DVD burning support and some new photo tools.
The Windows Media center can stream video and pictures to your TV.
These features are great for looking after libraries of pictures and I’ve posted a Video to show them in action on my blog here.
And now, it's time for the questions.
Q. Right clicking on a JPEG picture file brings up options to rotate it. Will this be extended to TIFFs and other formats?
A. Yes, this is in the release version of Vista.
Q. JPEGs can be set, from the right-click menu, as screen backgrounds. Will there be an option to do this with TIFFs and other large-file formats, retaining the original file and creating a screen-size JPEG version to use as the background.
A. Not as far as I know. It’s not a difficult thing for someone to write.
Q. When is the Windows Vista Ultimate Edition going to get animated desktop wallpapers?
A. I don’t have an exact date, but hopefully before this is published!
Q. Can the GUI such as the Start menu and the Taskbar be given customised colours?
A. Yes. However some of the predefined themes fix the colours, so if you’re using the Aero theme for example, there’s no easy route to change these things via the GUI
Q. Has Windows Paint been changed, upgraded or enhanced?
A. The changes are very small. The toolbar Icons have been changed, and there are 3 new menu options, Save as Background (stretched), Invert Selection, and Crop.
Q. What's the situation with anti-virus software? We understand that the system kernel has been locked from access, so that anti-virus software writers can't access it to protect the system.
A. First of all the changes only affect the 64-bit version, not the 32-bit. Even then it doesn’t affect all AV software. What’s happened is we have protected the system from a class of malware known as a root kit, which hides itself by patching the kernel. Unfortunately some AV software is implemented as a benign root kit, and will need more of a change than is usual for a new OS.
Picture folders can be made into slideshows or burnt to CD from the browser.
A. Yes there is a basic photo-editor, which has brightness and contrast, Colour Temperature, Saturation & Tint, Red-eye reduction and cropping. This tool keeps the original file and you can revert to that later.
Q. Will the system recognise and be able to deal with RAW file formats from digital cameras?
A. Yes... but for such a short question the answer is quite complicated. Vista introduces a new technology called Windows Imaging Codecs. WIC and the bits to make WIC work can also be installed on Windows XP. We’ve had COmpressor/DECompressor (CoDecs) for sound and video for about 15 years but this is the first time we’ve had them for stills. The codec can return a variable size image and the EXIF meta-data (tags) embedded in the file, so you can see date taken, author, title, shutter speed, aperture, focal length and so on. It’s up to the codec whether it lets you write back to the image or the data, and how it produces the image (for example, does it convert a RAW or does it use the JPG preview embedded in it?)
Microsoft only provides a few codecs (for BMP, JPEG, TIFF, and PNG) and RAW codecs are left to camera makers. Nikon are first to ship a finished one. We’ve released Photoinfo v1.0 with an early version of this Codec and Canon’s as well. I don’t have any information on what the plans of Olympus, Pentax or Sony are for their formats. Adobe put forward the DNG format for RAW files which Hasselblad, Leica, Pentax, Ricoh and Samsung now support. I’m not sure if any of the camera companies will provide a DNG codec and I’m not optimistic about Adobe doing so. They don’t preview PDFs or expose their properties in Explorer, and although they have the required I-filter to enable search of PDFs in Vista, they don’t install it as part of the reader.
I would hope that people who produce RAW conversion software (Capture One, Bibble etc) would implement their preview and property functions as Codecs so that when you installed their software you got extra functions in Explorer.
Showing EXIF picture data from within a standard browsing window.
Q. Is there going to be a Power Toy for Vista that is similar to the one used for XP, so we can fine tune the system to our requirements? If yes when might this be available?
A. We haven’t made any commitment to do one. Typically a little time goes by before the requirements for a Power Toy become clear, and they’re often done as after hours projects by people from the product team. I expect there to be one, but it’s hard to give a time scale.
Q. Are Microsoft in a position to say when hardware manufacturers will have full Vista drivers released, including working software?
A. No. It’s probably worth expanding this a little. When Vista sees a new device ID it checks to see if it has a driver for it. If it doesn’t then it can go to Windows Update to request a driver. If it doesn’t find one, it logs this as a problem, and periodically checks for a solution. It will also periodically check with Windows Update to see if there is a newer version of any of the installed drivers. Obviously somewhere there is a log of all the devices which have generated driver requests which we could not satisfy.
Now, you can imagine the problems it would cause if we said “Company X will have support in March” and it slips, or if we said “Company Y won’t support the Banana 2000 series, 2010 series or 2020 series”. We could list of drivers and IDs which are served via Windows Update – but that changes day to day. If we published a list people could draw all sorts of inferences, so we end up sending people back to the hardware vendor to get a definitive answer.
The problem checking feature knows things like this bit of software has crashed three times and will learn from Windows update that publisher has an update and will tell you to go to their website and download it. It would be great if in the future we could act as a clearing house for that information about drivers in a similar way
Q. Photographic interest now, will there be a RAW viewer update for thumbnails as per XP?
A. Yes. See above for the details of the Codecs, it’s built into Explorer and there is the new photo info tool as well.
Q. I've read somewhere that Vista has a colour calibration functionality. Is this right and if so,what will it do how will it work?
A. Windows XP supports ICC colour profiles, and this support is carried forward into Vista. A profile maps numbers used in an image to exact colours so that the colours you see on paper match the colours your camera recorded and your monitor displays a view which matches both. The Image Color Management (ICM) in XP hasn’t been as easy to work with as it could have been, so Vista introduces the Windows Color System (WCS). This still uses the ICC profile format for compatibility. If you want to know the details of what it does differently and why there is a white paper here.
A game running within its own window in Vista, with gadgets down the right hand side.
Q. For the .NET 2 enabled PCs, there is an add on to enable Metadata to be tagged to images; are we likely to see this expanded for movie files, therefore making the basis for Digital Asset Management common on Vista, and XP for that matter?
A. I’m not sure which add-in is being referred to here. An add on written for .NET Version 2 should run on Vista. There is already a way to tag image and Windows Media files from explorer – and this process is easier in Vista than it was in XP
Paul Morgan asks:
Q. There are probably many of us on here that are in no great hurry to upgrade to Vista, How much longer will updates and support still be available to Windows XP users.
A. First of all you should know XP is only supported now if it is running Service pack 2. According our published service pack roadmap we’re planning a service pack for XP in 2008, and we’ll stop supporting SP2 12 Months after SP3 comes out. The minimum support life of any product is five years from release or two years after the release of the next product. For business and developer products there is an additional five year period during which we will provide security updates free, and other support for paying customers. That means we’ll be supporting Vista up to the end of 2011.
Q. I have heard that Vista requires more system resources to run. Will that cause problems for users of older PCs? And if so can the embedded functions - some of the graphics and photography related features - be turned off to free up resources to run Creative Studio and Photoshop?
A. Each version of Windows does more than the previous one so the minimum hardware requirements go up. Will it cause problems? Some older machines do have a high enough spec to run Vista so it’s not really down to age, but the older the machine the more likely it is to fall short. Someone I work with has put Vista on a five year old laptop with 512Mb of RAM and reports it runs better than Windows XP, without the Glass features turned on.
Q. Is it backward compatible? I have some games and other software that uses XP to run, could I run them on Vista or would I need to buy new games and software?
A. In theory everything should run, and Vista offers some compatibility tricks to get some misbehaving programs to work. Recent games which are written to use Direct-X should all run. Having said that, there are always things which can’t be made to work, although they are few and far between.
Q. I tried the Vista Beta and had many of my programs run into compatibility problems, most importantly Photoshop CS2, to the point I had to format my drive and re-install my XP Professional. Has the new official Vista addressed these problems with compatibility?
A. Yes. See above. One of the things about beta testing is that’s where we find a lot of the compatibility problems. I’m running Adobe Lightroom on 64-bit Vista and it works beautifully.
The task-switching is now highly graphical.
Q. When are Microsoft planning to release SP1?
A. We haven’t set a date. Fixes go out through Windows Update now, so there is a lot less pressure to do service packs at all. I think there are still people out there who belong to the 1990’s way of thinking - wait for SP1 – there’s a useful page here with a list of when products and service packs were released. We shipped NT4 on 29 July 1996, and SP4 on 25 October 1998 - 27 months later. We released SP2 for XP more than 27 months ago, and it’s still current. Since Vista started with XP code, the quality should be at least as good. It would be a very foolish person who claimed any piece of software was perfect, but the more testing and use a product gets the more obscure the bugs that remain in it and Vista has already had a huge amount of testing. I believe we had more beta testers for Vista than customers for NT 3.1, 3.5 and 3.51 combined.
Q. Why is Vista far more expensive in the UK than in the US? And why don't we get the same opportunity as the US to buy up to four further copies if you have more than one machine at home at just £50 each, as in the US?
A. It depends how you purchase it. The US Department of Justice said we had to charge computer makers who bought the same number of licenses the same amount for the same software – regardless of where they are. If you buy from one of the big global brands the cost to them is the same regardless of the market. Licensing deals for large customers are worked out from one worldwide price list. So why, when you purchase a copy from a retail outlet is the cost higher? First off you have to make sure you compare like with like, UK prices include VAT and US ones exclude local sales tax. Even then we can’t force retailers to charge a specific price – that’s illegal – but most of the difference is because UK retailers work to higher margins than their US counterparts. When you buy retail product there is some support cost, which is higher in Europe, and UK prices tend to be linked to European prices – cost of different languages averaged out over the whole of Europe . Also I’ve found people tend to look at the cost of the full product rather than the upgrade, whereas just about everyone should be buying the upgrade. If you are building or upgrading a PC you may be eligible to buy the OEM (system builder) pack, which is much cheaper. Finally, if you are buying for home use and you have children, check to see if you are eligible to buy software at Educational discount.
Q. Why won't Vista work with USB modems? It means we have to buy an ethernet modem or router in order to connect to the internet when running Vista - more expense!
A. I believe this information has been put out by AOL and is incorrect. There may be some USB cable and ADSL devices (possibly supplied by AOL) which don’t have Vista drivers (and whose XP drivers don’t work), but as a general rule USB network adapters should be fine.
Little Jo asks:
Q. I'm not into games or multimedia streaming, but I want a solid workhorse. Would the business edition deliver this?
A. Yes. Most of the bits are the same on all the editions. Have a look here for a comparison.
Q. Does the licence for Office 2007 still allow installation on a desktop and a laptop as the 2002 version did? If not, is there a way to get a single installation disk with the additional licences that doesn't cost a ridiculous sum?
A. I had to go and check this one. The answer is yes, we still allow this.
Q. I've recently heard that changes to Office 2007 are going to cause backwards compatibility issues - can you comment any more on that?
A. Office 2007 has a new file format called Open XML and all the file extensions have added an x. For example Word documents are now DOCx. You can tell 2007 to save in the old format – and opens it happily. There is a tool to allow the older versions to load the new format. But if you let 2007 save in the new format and you send something to someone who has the older software without the update then they won’t be able to open your files. Office 2007 warns you if it is going to have to drop some feature – like a clever PowerPoint Build for example – to save in the old format.
Q. Why is there no option to have the firewall ask about outgoing programs and whether they should have access to phone home? To have to set up a rule for each program is ludicrous when you don't even know which ones may be trying to phone home in the first place. To simply have a popup each time a new app tries to phone home would be simple (every other decent firewall does this)
A. This is exactly how the Vista firewall works. Vista recognises different networks as Work, Home and Public, and has different rules for each. The firewall understands that there are different rules for different networks for example, allow incoming requests at work but not on Public network in Starbucks.
By default a minimum set of programs are allowed to have access to the network, anything else will pop-up a dialog box saying, this program is trying to access the network, do you want it to have access now, and do you want it always to have access?
Because users need administrative privileges to change the firewall settings, network administrators can push out rules using Group Policy to allow or forbid certain things in advance, and turn off the pop-up message.
Our thanks go to everyone who contributed questions and to James O'Neill for taking the time to answer them all.
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