Vista Aero Glass – performance hit (or not)

Just read an interesting analysis at where they tested a couple of different systems running Windows Vista with Aero Glass switched on and off. (Windows Aero – if you’re not aware of it by name – is the new user interface functionality, with transparent windows and the swish new effects present all through Vista)

The cynic in most techies would assume that flashy graphics mean hammering the system performance; I’ve known plenty of people who even switched off all the fancy UI features, on the basis that the machine would be a few % more responsive… remember the old advice on Windows 3.1 or 95 to not use a graphical desktop backdrop since that put an overhead on system performance?

Anyway, the FiringSquad results are predictably games-focused, but draw an interesting conclusion – graphical performance is, in some cases, marginally better with Aero switched on, and even in the cases where it isn’t, it’s only fractionally less so.

“Quite frankly, we were shocked by these results.”

So, the moral of the story is… switch on all the bells and whistles if you can 🙂

Sideshow Media Center remote – want one!

I’ve been a long-time user of the Philips Pronto programmable remote – it’s an LCD touch screen based affair, which can be programmed to the 9th degree to create your own UI of macros which correspond to lots of different activities on different remotes – eg a “Watch the TV” button which powers on your screen, starts up the satellite box, switches the TV to the right input, fires up the Amp and selects the TV audio input on that. Or “Shut everything down”, where it would send “Off” commands to all your A/V kit.

To get a flavour for what’s possible, just have a browse on RemoteCentral‘s amazing file archive … the principal downside is you could spend hundreds of hours tweaking and tuning the setup …

Any IR-based remote can be frustrating though, since it’s all one-way – meaning, if it sends the signal to the TV to change inputs, there’s no way of verifying that the TV actually acted on the command – maybe something was blocking the IR window on the screen, or maybe your macro sent it too soon after switching the TV on so it might not have started up properly.

Anyway, I started looking into the promised Sideshow Media Center remotes which we’ll see later this year – remotes which have 2-way communication with a Vista Media Center PC (using the Vista Sideshow framework), so could not only control the PC and any associated A/V kit (using Bluetooth & IR), but could also let you browse media libraries or TV guides on the remote, without disturbing what’s happening on the screen.

Engadget has a preview of the Ricavision remote which was on display at CES … should be available towards the middle of the year, for around $200. I think I’ll get my order in now 🙂


Some more useful Windows & Outlook shortcuts

As I mentioned the other day, I’ve a penchant for using shortcuts in Windows: most (if not all) are documented in help files and the likes, but it is amazing how many people don’t know about them or just don’t use them.

Continuing the list of shortcut keys that can save a few fractions of a second each time you use them…

  • ALT-SPACE brings up the menu which allows you to maximise, minimise etc the current window – may be useful if you’ve played with multiple monitors and a window appears half off the screen such that you can’t get to the top of it… ALT-SPACE followed by “M” (for Move) will allow you to use the arrow keys to shift the window around the screen.

  • In Outlook, CTRL-2 switches to the Calendar, CTRL-3 to Contacts, and CTRL-1 back to Inbox. Handy if you’re often flicking around to arrange a meeting with lots of people…

  • Still in Outlook, when viewing the Calendar ALT-= switches to Month view, ALT- “-” (next to equals sign) switches to the week view, and ALT- number displays the number of days forward from the current date (eg ALT-9 will show 9 day view).

There are lots of handy commands which you can type, used in conjunction with Windows-Key-R, to speed navigation in the UI. You could even set up shortcuts to some of these for quick activation using the mouse/start menu etc…

Some favourites:

NCPA.CPL – jumps straight into the network control panel, rather than (depending on which version of Windows you’re running), fiddling about in Control Panel and looking for Networking connections. Under Vista, the guts of Networking is hidden behind the Network & Sharing Center.

DESK.CPL ,3 – (note the space before the comma) – takes you straight to the display settings page that’s used to change resolution, select monitors etc.

COMPMGMT.MSC – quick way of getting to the main Computer Management snapin, which branches off to event logs, user manager etc.

SYSDM.CPL – System Properties dialog (same effect as pressing WND-BREAK)

There are many more – from SERVICES.MSC or EVENTVWR typed directly at the Start menu, to MSTSC /v <server> /console to take over a remote machine’s console using the Terminal Server client.

Enjoy – and Happy New Year!


Some Handy Windows shortcut keys…

I like the Windows GUI, and particularly since I’m use to it, the Vista UI. I don’t think I follow a particularly usual pattern, though, because I tend to make use of lots of keyboard shortcuts which many people may not know, or may know about somewhere in the back of their mind but never bother to use them.

Some examples:

ALT-TAB – cycles through open windows – everyone probably knows that. Yet, I still often see people manually minimising windows to get to the document behind … and wonder “what’s the point of a multi-window, multi-tasking OS if you only ever think about the one at the front?” On a similar vein, SHIFT-ALT-TAB goes back through the list of windows that ALT-TAB does, so if you over-shoot the window/document you’re looking for, it’s quick to go back one.

CTRL-SHIFT-ESC – not that obvious a combination maybe, but they’re at least all down one side of the keyboard so can be quickly activated. Brings the Windows Task Manager up, and a good bit quicker than right-clicking on the task bar, or pressing CTRL-ALT-DEL and getting it from there.

And then there’s the “Windows” key on most keyboards…

  • WND-D “restores” the desktop; ie minimises everything and gives you direct access to the desktop. Annoyingly on Vista, this also minimises the Sidebar …
  • … although WIND-SPACE brings just the sidebar to the fore again, withough making it Always on Top.
  • WND-R is equivalent to the Start->Run command, so it’s only one less keystroke but saves fractions of a second in screen painting time, which always seems like a better way to do it.

There are many other WND-combinations which I don’t really use (like WND-E for Explorer/My Computer).

And finally (for now), one I found out purely by accident by hitting more keys than I wanted on my laptop… WND-Break. Opens the “System Properties” dialog which would normally be on (My) Computer -> Properties from the start menu.

I’ll follow up another time with some other handy commands which can save a bit of time (especially when run from WND-R :))…

Using HTC devices as a modem over USB in Vista RTM

One of the neat things with HTC Windows Mobile 5 devices on Windows Vista is when you activate the Wireless Modem over Bluetooth, Vista will just see the device and automatically detect it as a modem.

When you plug the device in to a Vista PC using USB (having first enabled Wireless Modem over USB on the phone), you may find that it won’t be recognised.

A solution can be derived from

If you grab your standard HTC USB Modem INF file (you can grab a copy here if you don’t have one to hand) and add the emboldened lines below into the relevant places…


AddService=usbser, 0x00000000, LowerFilter_Service_Inst


Save the file out under a new name, and when Vista starts looking for the driver, tell it you want to point to a specific location. If it finds this file, you should find that Robert’s your father’s brother!

Have a happy Christmas – see you in the new year!

Zooming in for demos

I remember seeing Mark Russinovich present at TechEd a while back, and was impressed when he used a zooming utility to show one quarter of the screen zoomed in enough that it was easy to read the screen, even from the back of the room.

Presenting to even a small room of people and when doing a demo, using one of the various zoom utilities helps draw attention to stuff that matters – whether that’s a line of code or a particular dialog box. I started using zooming software, and it’s amazing how many people ask “how did you do that?” – I think that everyone who presents and demos software should consider using some kind of zooming software as an essential tool.

Oh… and DROP YOUR SCREEN RESOLUTION! I hate seeing 1400×1200-odd resolution being projected to a 8×6′ screen at the front of a 200′ room – nobody beyond the front row can read anything!

Now a while ago, I got a Wireless Notebook Optical Mouse 4000… bit of a mouthful of a name, but it’s a little bag-friendly mouse with great battery life, and one of the main reasons I bought the thing – the Magnify button. This allows you to zoom in on a resizeable and moving magnified window, which floats over the thing you’re trying to show.

It’s possible to use the zooming software either by having a supported mouse (like the WNOM 4000) which has a dedicated magnify button, or by installing the free IntelliPoint software, and by assigning another button (eg the “Click the mouse wheel” action), you can zoom even from a traditional mouse. The newly published Intellipoint 6.1 also supports Vista, and even works in the Aero Glass video mode (though you may see some weirdness in the video driver when activating the magnify). I’ve been using the IntelliPoint beta for a while, and the Magnify works better in non-Aero mode (ie switch the colour scheme to “Windows Basic”.

Another option is to try Robert Burke’s excellent NLarge utility, which zooms a quarter of the screen at a time in a nice “whoosh” fashion… It’s great for showing static content, but (unlike IntelliPoint) it doesn’t allow you to operate the machine whilst zoomed, though it does allow you to draw on the zoomed-in image, so if you’re just trying to highlight something that isn’t changing, that could be a better fit.

Give each of them a go and figure out which works best for you!


Windows Mobile Device Center in Vista

I’ve been a user of Windows CE/Windows Mobile devices ever since the early days of “Windows CE Services”, which later morphed into ActiveSync (currently at version 4.2, but v4.5 should be with us soon). The software has certainly evolved over the years and now provides a fairly decent user experience (leaving aside the somewhat chequered history of duplicating contacts and the likes).

Windows Vista has swept ActiveSync aside and replaced it with the new Windows Mobile Device Center, which looks a whole lot nicer and easier to use (on the most part). I’ve been using the Beta 3 build (which can be installed on Vista RTM code – either by getting it through Windows Update or by download from the site linked above), and once it’s up and running it provides a much smoother integration of the device with the rest of the OS.

There are a couple of niggles with WMDC though…

  • A lot of software designed to be installed via a PC onto a Windows Mobile devices checks for the existence of ActiveSync on the PC and will fail if it can’t find it.
  • Some personal firewalls (including OneCare 1.5 – something else I’m beta-testing) will just block the device from seeing the PC and vice versa.

Installing mobile apps through WMDC

On the first point, there is an API which software vendors will be able to use in order to do a clean installation through Vista/WMDC as well as through ActiveSync, but until they start supporting that API you might be in a quandry.

One possible solution is to take the self-extracting .EXE that much device software comes packaged as, and crack it open using a suitable app (such as WinZip), to fish out the appropriate .CAB file for your device. Some apps might come packaged with both Smartphone and PPC versions, or maybe versions targeted at Windows Mobile 5.0 vs Windows Mobile 2003. The name of the .CAB file will ususally give you a clue as to what platform it’s for, and which version.

Take the appropriate CAB file and use WMDC to drop it onto your device, then use File Explorer or something to activate the CAB file for installation. Worst case might be to copy the CAB file into the folder within the Start menu, so even if you don’t have a File Explorer app (as some devices are delivered), you should still be able to activate. Normally, activating the CAB file will take up the installation part that usually happens on the device when installating through ActiveSync (ie you get the message on ActiveSync asking you to check your device screen…)

Personal Firewall blocking

After struggling with getting WMDC running on my home PC after installing Vista RTM, I wondered if OneCare was blocking it from running (since the OneCare firewall is bidirectional and also a little less integrated into the whole system than the built in Windows Firewall). I found some instructions buried deep in the WMDC help file, which list some ports to allow through the firewall.

Set your firewall up to allow ports/protocols:

Inbound: 990/TCP, 999/TCP, 5678/TCP, 5721/TCP, 26675/TCP

Outbound: 5679/UDP

After enabling these rules, and reconnecting the device, WMDC should spring to life!