Monday, August 31, 2009

Windows 7 Lessons Learned (so far)

So being the geek that I am, I was very excited to start playing with Windows 7. I put the release candidate (RC1) on my laptop a couple of months ago. Everything worked quite smoothly, and I was very impressed. However, when the release to manufacturing (RTM) version came out, I backed up my data, and installed the RTM as a fresh version. I thought everything would be just as awesome, but there have been a few issues I've had to work around.

UPDATE: Apple released iTunes 9.0, which now works correctly on Windows 7 without any special settings, so you can ignore the paragraph below (don't use iTunes 8.x on Windows 7).

Firstly, iTunes and Windows 7 don't seem to play together well, at least not with my iPod Touch or iPhone. I spent many hours recovering my apps (it freaked out and deleted everything...yes, suck-o-rama), and then had to experiment quite a bit. I was getting errors ranging from "verifying device" hanging forever, to it wanting to repeatedly delete my apps and data. Finally, I got it to work by telling it to run as administrator when it starts (which causes a pop up asking if that's ok) and then also running it in XP Service Pack 3 compatibility mode (iTunes has a pop-up for this one saying for optimal performance not to run it in compatibility mode). After getting through the pop-ups, iTunes will sync with my devices. Phew. However, this causes major issues with trying to burn a CD, pretty much not working. The solution? I have two versions of iTunes pinned to my start bar, the one that runs in XP mode, and the one that runs normally. I just have to know which to start based on what I want to do. Simple eh?

My iTunes problems also exposed another problem. When I was trying to listen to music, it would occasionally freak out and slow way down, stuttering through a song. I figured it was another symptom of XP mode, but then it showed itself in the normal version. I used task manager to see an svchost.exe process sucking up CPU (and fighting iTunes for cycles, maxing the machine at 100%). Now, svchost is simply a container that windows uses to run "stuff" in, so who knows what it was doing right? Wrong. You need to have task manager show you the PID (Process ID), then you go to the services tab and see what service is using that PID. Oh, and you may have needed to show all processes in order to see the offending process (requires administrator permission). This svchost was running windows defender. I have no idea why it was freaking out, but I right clicked it, and stopped the service. Problem solved, although now I guess I'm susceptible to spyware. I thought this fixed everything, but 5 mintues later it started stuttering again. ARRRG!

audiodg.exe. What is this process you ask? Well, apparently it was introduced in Vista, and is an out of process way to mix/handle audio. It apparently has some benefits of allowing applications to pass off processing and do cool/special things. I'm guessing that making iTunes plaback sound like a slow-motion stutter-fest is not an intended cool thing. After some googling, I learned to go into the properies and tell it not to do any "enhancements". After doing that, no more stuttering.

I ran the windows experience ratings test, and was shocked to see my 2.0 for Aero Graphics staring at me. Um, no, not cool. Under Vista I had decent scores for that. Hmm, this explains why the very cool transparent/glass effects were leaving trails like I had just done several hits of acid. After MANY hours of messing around with drivers, I finally got the score up to a respectable 3.5. It's still lower than all the other scores, but is about as good as I can expect from the card I have in my laptop (verified against video card expected ratings). Turns out the NVidia "approved" driver for Windows 7 did not do well for who knows what reason. However, I was able to get the Dox Optimised 180.84 driver to work, and it's great. For optimized NVidia drivers, check out If you have never messed around with video drivers before, you're treading into somewhat dangerous territory, so you may want to rethink doing it.

Windows loves its services. When you get a fresh install of either Vista or Windows 7, you'll have lots of services running that aren't necessary. They shouldn't really affect you, unless you're geeking out and just want to make sure there aren't any cycles being used on things you don't care about. However, there is a service you will want to know about. By default, the Windows Media Player Network Sharing Service will be running. What this does, is basically start shouting out across whatever network you're on that it has media files and who wants to see/hear them?! If you care about privacy, you're going to want to disable this service. I discovered this in Vista when my DirecTV DVR got a software upgrade, and then all of a sudden told me that my laptop was no longer connected when I turned it off. Imagine my surprise that my TV is telling me it knows about my laptop, and I hadn't done anything to make this happen. If your computer is only ever on your home network, and behind a firewall (likely built into your router), then you may think this is super cool. However, if you use your computer at work, do you really want everyone watching your home videos?

Last thing, is more of an annoyance than a big deal, but for some reason they removed the standard stock gadget that was in Vista. It was even in the Windows 7 RC1, but in the RTM it mysteriously vanished. Whatever, but it was a slick gadget.

Hopefully this info will help if you find yourself with Windows 7 and strange symptoms.

Overall though, Windows 7 is the best OS Microsoft has put into the market to date. Once you get it running smoothly, you're going to love it. (I expect that once Windows 7 goes GA, Apple will put out a new version of iTunes that fixes my problems).