Windows 8 review: the previews

Windows 8 Developers Preview (~Sep 2011): I installed this first preview on a secondary work machine and I absolutely hated it; I didn’t understand what Microsoft was trying to accomplish and everything seemed far more difficult to accomplish in Metro than it is in the standard Windows desktop.

Note: I got my first android smartphone between these two previews, so I got some experience with phone-style apps.

Windows 8 Consumer Preview (~Feb 2012):  I was curious about the direction of Windows 8 since the developers preview so I installed this new consumer preview in a virtual machine.  It was much smoother than the first preview and I understood the direction Microsoft was heading.  So I went ahead and installed this preview on a new partition on my hard drive and attempted to use it full-time.

I started to view the metro/modern system as a value-added system; I’d still use my desktop for most things but I could jump into a metro app for a break.  And oddly enough, what changed my mind about Windows 8 was my experience with apps on an android smartphone and the Pinball FX2 metro app — I had a lot of fun with that app!

One bug drove me crazy, though.  I use a slideshow of images for my desktop background and every time the background changed Windows would display a phantom taskbar icon.  Over time, the taskbar would be filled with these phantom taskbar entries.  That was quite annoying.

Windows 8 Release Preview (~Jun 2012):  The release preview was very stable and I was able to use it full-time with no issues.  The phantom taskbar problem was fixed and everything else seemed to be working as well as it was in Windows 7.

My only complaint was that Microsoft removed the Pinball FX2 app for some reason; I had to keep a copy of the Consumer Preview in a VM to play that game.  But the game was rumored to return when the final version of Windows 8 was released.

Window borders in Windows 8

You can change the width of desktop window borders by making a simple registry modification. Below is the default values; just change them to -1 (or any other value you want) and you will have thin window borders when you next logon.

[HKEY_CURRENT_USERControl PanelDesktopWindowMetrics]
"BorderWidth"="-15"
"PaddedBorderWidth"="-60"

Note: these settings appear to persist even if you change your theme. happy smiley

Windows 7: Office 2003 color fix

When running Office 2003 in Windows 7, Office tries to follow the Windows color scheme and fails miserably (IMHO). Most of the windows colors are silver but Office defaults to the ugly blue found in Luna.

You can easily fix these problems by doing the following:

  1. In the Start Menu or Superbar, right-click on the Word 2003/Excel 2003/etc icon and select Properties
  2. On the Compatibility tab, check the Disable visual themes option.

This forces Office to default to the classic look, which fits much better with Windows 7 Aero.

Windows 7: Pin Computer to Taskbar

One annoying thing in Windows 7 is the inability to pin “Computer” (used to be called “My Computer”) to the taskbar; when you try to pin Explorer to the Taskbar, it will default to the Libraries folder.You can get an Explorer pinned that defaults to Computer with a simple workaround:

  1. Create a new shortcut on the desktop
  2. The target of the shortcut is %SystemRoot%explorer.exe /E,::{20D04FE0-3AEA-1069-A2D8-08002B30309D}
  3. For the icon, right-click on the new shortcut, select the Change Icon button and search in the %SystemRoot%System32shell32.dll file.  The Computer icon was located near the bottom in my dialog.
  4. Now, right-click on the new shortcut and select Pin to Taskbar.

Now when you click on the pinned Taskbar icon, Explorer will open at Computer.  Seems like there should be an easier way to get this functionality, but that’s why it’s a Beta/RC release.   🙂

BTW, you can also add other special folders by replacing the shortcut target to a new switch; a list of valid targets can be found here.

Windows 7: Add to the Send To menu

To quickly add new destinations to the Send To menu, simply type shell:sendto in the Location Bar in Windows Explorer.  It will show you the existing destinations, and you can add new destinations by simply dragging new destinations into this window.Wonder what else is available via this shell feature?  Check this website.

Win 7: Changing the login screen

I recently installed the 64-bit release candidate of Windows 7 and the first change I noticed was that the login screen had changed.  I actually preferred the one that came in the Beta, and there is a way to get it back  (or use any picture you like for the background).
  1. Download the wallpaper from askvg.com
  2. Download and run the Tweaks.com Logon Changer utility.

All you have to do is to press the Change Logon Screen button, find your new picture and you are good to go!   Sweet!

64-Bit Windows

Since I had to reinstall my OS anyways due to my hardware upgrade, I decided to move to the 64-bit version Windows 7. This would allow me to use all of my new memory, not just the 3.2 GB limit imposed by 32-bit Windows.

I used the Public Beta (version 7000), but I’ll be reinstalling the OS again when the RC comes out May 5th. This really won’t take that long; I installed x64 in less than two hours, including Office, Visual Studio and all my necessary programs and updates.

So far, I haven’t seen any major issues, only minor ones:

  • There is no working 64-bit Cisco VPN Client — I have to upgrade to their AnyConnect client and I don’t think I can convince my employers to buy the upgrade just because I got a new home computer! 🙂
  • I had an odd problem with 32-bit program icons pinned on the Taskbar. I installed Firefox and Thunderbird (32-bit so Flash would work) and it installed them in C:Program Files (x86). When these icons were pinned to the Taskbar, the icon image was lost. I tried to fix it but it said that it couldn’t find the file (even though it was there). I solved these problems by uninstalling both programs and reinstalling in an alternate location; this wasn’t too much of an issue since I already have a Programs directory on my Data drive that I want to keep between OS installs.
  • I’m also having a weird issue where my second monitor does not refresh after the UAC Secure Desktop appears; I have to manually refresh the monitor. This is probably a driver issue, since I have two cards (main one PCI-Ex, secondary one PCI). I don’t need UAC that much, so this really isn’t a major issue.

Other than that, it has been very smooth! I really can’t wait for the Win7 RC to come out!

64-bit computing in Virtualbox

Since I’ve recently upgraded to a 64-bit capable processor, I’m considering running the 64-bit version of Windows 7.  I’ll probably wait until the RC becomes available (hopefully soon!) and then test the 64-bit version first.  The 32-bit Beta was incredibly stable; I’m hoping the 64-bit version will be as well.In order to test application compatibility, I decided to install the 64-bit Beta in Virtualbox.  The latest Virtualbox will run 64-bit guests in a 32-bit host (as long as your hardware supports it).  In order to get the 64-bit installed, I had to use the following settings:

  • ACPI: Enabled
  • IO APIC: Enabled
  • VT-x/AMD-V: Enabled
  • PAE/NX: Enabled

I also had to set the OS Type to “Windows 7 (64 bit)”.  At that point, I was able to install Win7 x64 normally!

We’ll see how the testing goes next.   🙂