29% of Windows Vista crashes caused by NVIDIA drivers


If you were an early adopter of Windows Vista, there’s a pretty good chance you became familiar with one of Vista’s coolest new features: an automatic crash reporting utility that will recommend solutions if and when they become available. Or to put it another way, if you tried running Windows Vista on many machines, there was a good chance your computer crashed. A lot. Even if the manufacturer had slapped a shiny new label proclaiming the computer to be “Vista Capable.”
There’s a class action suit working its way through the courts to determine whether Microsoft changed the definition of “capable” to help Intel sell computers chips. But some of the documents released in the case (PDF link) are interesting in their own right. For example, Microsoft has a chart that lists identified causes of Windows Vista crashes during an unspecified period in 2007.
The folks at Ars Technica took it upon themselves to convert that data into the pretty chart you see above. The number one culprit graphics chip maker NVIDIA, a company that had a difficult time updating its graphics drivers for the new operating system. Next up is Microsoft itself, and really there’s no good excuse for that, is there?


Albany: New Microsoft ‘home office’ in the works

Microsoft has begun inviting selected testers to be part of a beta
of a new, consumer-focused Office-family product, codenamed “Albany.”

The beta invitation for Albany is cryptic, according to testers who
received the invite and asked not to be named. Albany will be aimed at
home PC users, not business customers, and will include both a software
and a services component. The individuals who’ve been invited into the
private, limited beta so far are those who’ve previously beta-tested
Office releases.

Update: I hear some folks who helped Microsoft test
Windows Live OneCare all-in-one consumer security/backup service also
got invites to the Albany beta.

Some testers with whom I’ve spoken are betting that Albany could be
the next version of Microsoft Works, Microsoft’s low-end productivity
suite. Works includes an address book, calendar, database, dictionary,
PowerPoint Viewer, basic Word and templates.

Microsoft officials said last year that they planned to conduct pilots and beta tests of Microsoft Works 9 SE, an ad-funded, free version of Microsoft Works. Officials would not discuss when and whether the company also planned to release a complementary Microsoft-hosted version of Works — even though there have been many signs pointing to Microsoft doing such a release.

One tester suggested that Albany, instead, might be a new offering
from Microsoft’s Office Authoring Services team. Office Authoring
Services is in charge of the “authoring” applications that are part of
Office — specifically, Word, OneNote (Microsoft’s note-taking app),
InfoPath (its electronic forms offering) and Publisher.

Microsoft has been looking for ways to compete with Google Docs that
would not require the company to completely Web-ify its Office
productivity suite. Office Live Workspace — the online-collaboration service
meant to complement Office, which is still currently in beta — is one
of Microsoft’s intended Google Docs competitors. I’ve argued in the
past that at least some of us users want a cheap or free version/subset of Office more than we want a Web-hosted one like Google Docs. Maybe Albany is an answer to those prayers….

The next version of Microsoft’s full-fledged Office suite, codenamed
Office 14, will include services elements, but it will still be a
PC-based, not a Web-based product, according to early Office 14 information.

I asked Microsoft for comment on Albany and was told, via a company
spokesperson, that Microsoft has “nothing to share at this time” about

Anyone else out there have more clues or guesses about what Albany
is? If it is a Software+Service version of Microsoft Works, do you
think consumers will be interested in such an offering?

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Microsoft patent makes Plug-and-Play smarter

When you buy a computer peripheral today – plugnplay whether it be a webcam, gamepad or a keyboard, the expectation is that when you plug it in it will work without any manual configuration. Thanks to Plug-and-Play support in all of today’s operating systems, motherboards and devices, that is very much a reality. Having said that, the system is not perfect.

The problem lies with device drivers. The device drivers which ship with each operating system release is only what is available at the time, so it cannot support new hardware which has been released after that time. This means when you plug in the device, the system is not going to find a suitable driver or it’s going to end up becoming a generic device. I’m sure you too will be quite pissed when you just installed a $300 gaming keyboard and mouse, and it defaults as a generic USB keyboard and mouse.

Up to and until now, operating systems and hardware vendors have tackled this problem by the use of internet updating mechanisms which seek out new drivers when you plug in a device. This of course relies on vendors actually actively updating the drivers in this drivers pool which so far they’ve failed, but more importantly, it requires an active internet connection. The paradox of installing a new network adapter which requires a network connection to download a new driver is a good example where this fails.

Microsoft has just patented an idea that solves both of these problems with one stone. Patent application 20080071935, “Self-Installing Computer Peripherals” for those of you playing at home.

The idea involves adding a tiny bit of non-volatile flash memory right into the device. It would only need to be large enough to store with it the device driver and any additional software required to support the device. In addition, a USB hub needs to be built into the device so both the functionality and flash memory parts of the device can be accessed by the system.

When the device is manufactured, the vendor can write to the memory the latest available drivers for the device. When plugged in, the operating system will automatically install the necessary components from the flash memory to utilize this device.

What’s more, because the memory can be written as well as read, if new driver or software is available, it can be automatically updated onto the device as well. This means if the device is plugged into another computer, the driver always up-to-date.

This might not sound like much for experienced users who have no problems finding and installing new drivers, but it’s pretty common to find a large majority of user using outdated or generic drivers just because they’re not even aware of drivers let alone driver updates. I think this has huge implications for them.

Especially when it seems like almost every other week a new webcam or keyboard and mouse set is released, having the best possible experience without any driver scavenging will certainly increase user satisfaction and decrease technical support calls.

For now, this seems to be only applicable to USB devices. I’d imagine it might take just a little more effort to get this working on expansion devices such as optical drives, motherboards, graphics cards and sound cards where drivers play a more critical role in the success of failure of utilizing the device in the first run. That, would sure be a hit with pro users too.

Source: istartedsomething.

Microsoft: Future of personal health (video)

The concept video produced by Microsoft Office Labs that was shown at a MIX08 session last week has found its way to the interwebs. Unfortunately it is a rip from the official MIX08 session webcast so the quality to begin with is not that great, and YouTube doesn’t do it much justice either. Having said all that, you can still get a pretty good idea of what Microsoft foresees as the future of personal health management with some advances in natural interface interactions.

Microsoft’s telescope centers on Windows

REDMOND, Wash.–When Microsoft releases its WorldWide Telescope this spring, the program will be a Windows-only download.

Much of the astronomical community, however, uses Macs and other Unix-based hardware. So, when principal developer Jonathan Fay shows off the program, he often uses a MacBook Pro. The telescope program itself, though, is running in Windows using the Mac’s dual-boot Boot Camp software.

Other Mac users will have to use similar technology. The program can theoretically run using virtualization programs, such as VMware’s Fusion or Parallels, but 3D applications often throw those programs for a loop.

Principal researcher Curtis Wong used a WinTel laptop running Vista on Monday night to demonstrate the program to journalists at a reception kicking off TechFest, Microsoft’s internal science fair. Microsoft first demoed an early version of the software at last year’s TechFest, while its current incarnation was shown last week at the TED conference in Monterey, Calif.

Given his penchant for Cupertino-designed hardware, I wondered why Fay was less than enthusiastic about prospects for a native Mac version. He said the type of programming needed to make the software a reality can be done vastly faster using Microsoft’s .Net and C# programming tools.

To make it truly cross-platform, he said, “I’d basically be looking at three to four years of development.” Plus, he quipped, “It doesn’t hurt if a few people buy Windows.”

Although Wong and Fay have done the actual software development largely over the last 18 months, the genesis of the project goes back to conversations Wong had years ago with now-missing Microsoft researcher Jim Gray, to whom Wong paid tribute.

“It’s dedicated to Jim,” he said, noting that Microsoft is making the software available free via a not-for-profit Web site.

Wong demonstrated a number of different ways to view the universe, including X-ray, hydrogen alpha and traditional imaging. The different views offer starkly different looks at the universe.

The images, as previously noted, are stitched together from a variety of sources including the Hubble and other Earth and space-based telescopes. Think of it as a “terapixel panorama,” Fay and Wong said of the finished product.

Contrary to some reports, however, the program does not use Microsoft’s PhotoSynth technology, but rather a different stitching technology and an internally developed projection method known as Toast.

IE8 will default to standard-compliant mode

ie8a In an impressive volte-face, Microsoft has decided that Internet Explorer 8 will default to being compliant with web standards after all, and will not, as previously announced, require web pages to explicitly opt in to conforming behavior.

Internet Explorer presently has two modes for displaying web pages: “quirks” mode, for showing old or particularly badly-formed pages, and “standards” mode, for showing pages that appear to conform to the various specifications that govern the web. The problem with this was that IE 7 doesn’t honor the standards very well, and so its “standards” mode isn’t all that standard.

IE 8, due to go into private beta imminently, is set to be a huge improvement on this front, and should be a truly standards-compliant version of Internet Explorer. This had Microsoft concerned. The obvious thing to do would be to make “standards” mode more standard. The part of this that concerned the company was that there are pages out there that put the browser into “standards” mode, but aren’t actually standard—instead, they depended on IE 7’s nonstandard “standards” mode.

To address this, Microsoft said that developers would have to opt in to true “standards” mode. Otherwise, web pages would be stuck with a kind of “IE 7” mode. This plan caused a considerable reaction in the web development community. Although many were sympathetic to Microsoft’s desire to not “break the web,” the general consensus was that this move would retard web development even further and undermine the entire purpose of web standards.

Surprisingly, Microsoft has changed its mind. Internet Explorer 8 will default to true standards compliance after all, and developers who want IE 7 behavior will have to explicitly choose it. Microsoft is citing its new interoperability initiative as the impetus behind the change. This move, designed primarily to stave off further EU intervention, emphasizes support and promotion of open standards in a way that the company hasn’t previously done. This move should also help to fend off Opera’s antitrust complaint, which argues that the EU should force IE into better standards compliance.

Although I’m glad to see the change (I understood why they wanted to have the opt-in behavior, but I didn’t agree with it), it’s not entirely clear why the company has changed its stance. The arguments that were made at the time of the original announcement were not unexpected or surprising; Microsoft knew what the criticisms would be and attempted to justify its choice in spite of them. Nothing has really changed between now and then, and Microsoft’s argument for the opt-in behavior is just as strong now as it was six weeks ago.

If the company honestly believed that its approach was, from a technical perspective, the best one—and the software giant certainly put quite some effort into designing and defending it—then it should be of some concern that politics should have caused it to switch. Don’t get me wrong—I’m glad that they’re going to make “standards” mode standard. I just wish they were doing so for the right reasons.