A performance improvement?

I have just upgraded to VirtualBox 2.1.4 and noticed something surprising: a performance improvement. I didn’t notice this with a Windows 200 guest but a Windows XP one now ran freely when it felt like it was immersed in treacle before. Since I had some photos to process for the hillwalking blog, that was a welcome boost and will be well used if it continues. What’s more, a Windows 7 VM that I have doesn’t run so sluggish now either. These observations do point towards 2.1.2 being a sluggard on my Ubuntu box, though hogs like Norton 360 didn’t help matters either. Whatever the truth was, things now feel much better and any enhancement to system speed has to be a good thing.

A hog removed

Even though my main home PC runs Ubuntu, I still keep a finger in the Windows world using VirtualBox virtual machines. I have one such VM running XP and this became nigh on unusable due to the amount of background processing going on. Booting into safe mode and using msconfig to clear out extraneous services and programs running from system start time did help but I went one step further. Norton 360 (version 2 as it happened) was installed on their and inspection of Process Explorer revealed its hoggish inclinations and the fact that it locked down all of its processes to defend itself from the attentions of malware was no help either (I am never a fan of anything that takes control away from me). Removal turned out to be a lengthy process with some cancelling of processes to help it along but all was much quieter following a reboot; the fidgeting had stopped. ZoneAlarm Pro (the free version that was gifted to users for one day only towards the end of 2008). Windows continues to complain about the lack of an antivirus application that it recognises so resolving that is next on the to do list.

Some things that I’d miss on moving from Linux to Windows

The latest buzz surrounding Windows 7 has caused one observer to suggest that it’s about to blast Linux from the desktop. My experiences might be positive but there are still things that I like about Linux that make me reluctant to consider switching back. Here are a few in no particular order:

Virtual Desktops (or Workspaces)

I find these very handy for keeping things organised when I have a few applications open at the same time. While I think that someone has come with a way of adding the same functionality to Windows but I’d need to go looking for that. Having everything cluttering up a single taskbar would feel a bit limiting.

Symbolic Links

If you have come across these before, they are a little hard to explain but it’s great to have to have the ability to make the contents of a folder appear in more than one place at a time without filling up your hard drive. It’s true to say that Windows 7 gets Libraries but I have a soft spot for the way that Linux does it so simply.

Lack of (intrusive) fidgeting

One of Windows’ biggest problems is that it’s such a massive target for attacks by the less desirable elements of the web community. The result is a multitude of security software vendors wanting to get their wares onto your PC and it’s when they get there that all of the fidgeting starts. The cause is the constant need for system monitoring and it eats up resources that could be used for other things. I know some packages are less intrusive than others but I do like the idea of feeling as if I am in full control of my PC rather someone else taking decisions for me (unavoidable in the world of work, I know). An example of this is Norton’s not allowing me to shut it down when it goes rogue, even when acting as Administrator. I can see the reason for this in that it’s trying to hamper the attentions of nefarious malware but it ends up making me feel less than empowered and I also like to feel trusted too. Another thing that I like is the idea of something awaiting my input rather going away and trying to guess what I need and getting it wrong, an experience that seems typical of Microsoft software.

Command Line

This is less of a miss than it used to be but there is now a learning curve with PowerShell’s inclusion with Windows 7 and it’s not something that I want to foist on myself without my having the time learning its ins and outs. It’s not a bad skill to have listed on the proverbial CV but I now know my way around bash and its ilk while knowing where to look when I want to take things further.

After these, there are other personal reasons for my sticking with Linux like memories of bad experiences with Windows XP and the way that Linux just seems to get on with the job. Its being free of charge is another bonus and the freedom to have things as you want makes you feel that you have a safer haven in this ever changing digital world. I am not sure if I’d go acquiring the final version of Windows 7 but I am certain that it will not be replacing Linux as my main home computing platform, something that come as no surprise given what I have said above.

Running Windows 7 within VirtualBox

With all the fanfare that surrounded the public beta release of Windows 7, I suppose that the opportunity to give it a whirl was too good to miss. Admittedly, Microsoft bodged the roll-out by underestimating the level of interest and corralling everyone into a 24 hour time slot with one exacerbating the other. In the event, they did eventually get their act together and even removed the 2.5 million licence limit. I suppose that they really need to get 7 right after the unloved offering that was Vista so they probably worked out that the more testers that they get, the better. After, it might be observed that the cynical view that the era making people pay to “test” your products might be behind us and that users just want things to work well if not entirely faultlessly these days.

After several abortive raids, I eventually managed to snag myself a licence and started downloading the behemoth using the supplied download manager. I foresaw it taking a long time and so stuck with the 32-bit variant so as not to leave open the possibility of that part of the process using up any more of my time. As it happened, the download did take quite a few hours to complete but this part of the process was without any incident or fuss.

Once the DVD image was downloaded, it was onto the familiar process of building myself a VirtualBox VM as a sandbox to explore the forthcoming incarnation of Windows. After setting up the ISO file as a virtual DVD, installation itself was an uneventful process but subsequent activities weren’t without their blemishes. The biggest hurdle to be overcome was to get the virtual network adapter set up and recognised by Windows 7. The trick is to update the driver using the VirtualBox virtual CD as the source because Windows 7 will not recognise it using its own driver repository. Installing the other VirtualBox tools is a matter of going to Compatibility page in the Properties for the relevant executable, the one with x86 in the file name in my case, and setting XP as the Windows version (Vista works just as well apparently but I played safe and depended on my own experience). While I was at it, I allowed the file to run under the administrator account too. Right-clicking on executable files will bring you to the compatibility troubleshooter that achieves much the same ends but by a different route. With the Tools installed, all was workable rather than completely satisfactory. Shared folders have not worked for but that might need a new version of the VirtualBox software or getting to know any changes to networking that come with Windows 7. I plan to stick with using USB drives for file transfer for the moment. Stretching the screen to fit the VirtualBox window was another thing that would not happen but that’s a much more minor irritation.

With those matters out of the way, I added security software from the list offered by Windows with AVG, Norton and Kaspersky being the options on offer. I initially chose the last of these but changed my mind after seeing the screen becoming so corrupted as to make it unusable. That set me to rebuilding the VM and choosing Norton 360 after the second Windows installation had finished. That is working much better and I plan to continue my tinkering beyond this. I have noticed the inclusion of PowerShell and an IDE for the same so that could be something that beckons. All in all, there is a certain solidity about Windows 7 but I am not so convinced of the claim of speedy startups at this stage. Time will tell and, being a beta release, it’s bound to be full of debugging code that will not make it into the final version that is unleashed on the wider public.

A new laptop

Having had it on my wish list for a view years, I finally succumbed to temptation and purchased a laptop in the PC World sale, a Toshiba Equium A200-1VO in fact. I reserved it on the web and popped into the nearest store a few hours later. However, while the reservation system worked, the collection did not go as smooth as I had hoped; it seems that the store where I went was not as well staffed as I would have liked and I needed to wait before I was served. Finding the right part of the store was another issued. Nevertheless, service was efficient once the wait was over and I left with the said laptop, a half-price copy of Norton 360 and a network cable.

The laptop comes with an Intel Pentium Dual-Core CPU, 2 GB of RAM and a 120 GB hard drive. The size of the hard drive may not set the world alight and neither, I suspect, will the Intel graphics adapter. Speaking of graphics, the glossy screen might not be to everyone’s taste but its 1280×800 maximum resolution is definitely respectable. Windows Vista Home Premium is the included operating system and a 90 day trial of Norton Internet Security comes too; I’ll wait for that to expire before adding in Norton 360. I am not in a hurry to add software but the Home and Student version of Office 2007 has made its way on their.

As regards perfomance, the machine so far has done what I have asked of without any bother. Even so, battery life is not extensive with a maximum of ninety minutes. For long stints away from a power point, an extra battery might be in order. That would add to the weight as well and, at around 2.5 kg, it isn’t something that I would go carrying on a weekend backpacking trip. Despite those limitations, it will go on getting used and I’ll be seeing how things go from here.

Toshiba Equium A200-1VO