Vista Service Pack 2 Beta Program Concludes

Vista Service Pack 2, which will include all previously included updates, is coming soon. It had been in beta or testing for a while. In other words, the brave (foolhardy?) were able to try it, if desired. This is essentially being a guinea pig for Microsoft, but hey, someone has to do it. Anyway, at this point in time (May 1st, 2009) the official release of SP2 is not available.

“Service Pack 2 (SP2) for Windows Server 2008 and Windows Vista is an upcoming update to Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008. It will provide customer and partner feedback-driven fixes into a single service pack, minimizing deployment and testing complexity. In addition to all previously released updates since SP1, SP2 will support new types of hardware, and will add support for several emerging standards.

As of April 28th, 2009 the Windows Server 2008 SP2 and Windows Vista SP2 Beta program has concluded, thank you for your participation and feedback.

This site will be updated to include Service Pack 2 download details when they are available.” This Technet site has all updates:


Vista Service Pack 1

Windows Vista Service Pack 1 has been out for quite a while now. If you are using Vista without Service Pack 1, then you should really consider updating! Service Packs are akin to makeovers of the operating system. This is the reason they are so large. They are filled with updates to the code, mostly revolving around fixes and patches for security and stability issues.

Not sure if you have Service Pack 1 (SP 1)? To find out, go to Start menu, aka ‘Start Search’ and type in ‘cmd’, then type ‘ver’. If you have this, then you have Service Pack 1: Microsoft Windows [Version 6.0.6001]. 6001 is a reference to the build number.

Alternatively, go into the system applet within the Control Panel, seen under System and Maintenance. Better yet, go to the Start Search, and type ‘system’ and open the system applet to look for the version. You can also open “System Information”, which will show you the version of Vista as well.

So, in a nutshell, if you only see “Windows Vista”, then you are not on SP 1. Get it at Windows Update or download it here:

Service Pack 1


Microsoft Spynet and Windows Defender

I have heard from some Vista users that Windows Defender can be a bit confusing when it comes to Microsoft SpyNet. In a typical Vista scenario, you can open the Start menu, type in ‘def’ in the Start Search, and open up Windows Defender. This is a useful tool that basically keeps an eye on pertinent system changes. If there are unexpected changes, chances are good that you will be notified. Defender can stop spyware and other technical diseases on your system. It cross references your system and software changes with those of other Internet users to come up with a general consensus of what is safe or not.

The confusion I refer to above is with Microsoft SpyNet. In Windows Defender Home, you can see below the Microsoft SpyNet this description: “Join the online community that helps identify and stop spyware infections”. I am sure Microsoft intends no confusion by this and its use of “membership” terminology, but some people interpret this to mean possibly a subscription is needed: in other words, sign up and pay up . But in fact this is not a fee based service, it rather provides for some optional means of using Defender: there is basic versus advanced membership or no membership whatsoever, and there is no sign up. If basic or advanced is chosen, software classifications information is sent to Microsoft, but it is very little, and in fact advanced is recommended.

Basic and Advanced SpyNet memberships are similar, with one key exception: in Basic membership, you will note the following line: “With basic membership, Windows Defender does not alert you if it detects software or changes made by software that has not yet been analyzed for risks.” Yet, that is exactly the protection that is needed and only ‘advanced’ membership can provide.

For that reason, it is advised that you choose advanced membership. And indeed there is no fee involved!


Vista Shortcuts

Let’s face it, sometimes within Vista we really need to get into a system application quickly! Maybe the Firewall or Services need to be opened ASAP. Of course these can be opened within the Control Panel any time. But in order to save a few clicks, typing the command or search keywords is faster. And a few clicks add up to substantial savings over time. For example, to open the Vista Firewall, you can go to the Start menu, Control Panel, Security, Windows Firewall. Pretty easy. But an alternative is to go to the Start menu and in Search type ‘firewall.cpl’. It seems like MORE work due to the typing, but really you can just type ‘fir’ and you will see Windows Firewall show in results.
Other shortcuts to type in the Search:
res: System Restore
sys: System Properties
serv: Windows Services
cmd : command prompt
dev: Device Manager
adm: administrative tools
calc: Calculator
ev: Event Viewer (this is an IMPORTANT one!)

Also, you may see the names of files that have been worked on in the results. This is handy if you forgot a saved file name. Once you get used to typing shortcut commands, you will save time overall.

For some real Vista fun, type in all the letters of the alphabet in the Search area and see for yourself what shows up!(no results for q, x or z on my test system)
More tech fun:

Printers and Vista

Let’s say you own a printer at home. Let’s say you want to upgrade to Windows Vista or purchase a new PC with Vista. In addition to running into potential application compatibility issues, you may find your printer does not function with the new oprating system. Find out from the printer manufacturer’s web site before purchasing! It is possible that the 4 year old printer is being phased out and the manufacturer (i.e. Brother, Xerox, HP) will not provide the needed software (i.e. drivers) for Vista compatibility.
As an aside, keep in mind that this is not the fault of Windows Vista. Drivers are the responsibility of the manufacturer. It’s a cruel world, and it may be time to upgrade that printer anyway. However, it is possible that a default or generic PS, postscript, printer driver will in fact work. So you can always hook it up toa new Vista system and see what happens.

Overview of Recent Malware Attacks

This is an excellent overview of the malware topic (in relation to UAC) that I touched upon in previous blog post. Of course, solid anti virus/malware/spyware productions should be considered as a defense, but remember also that locking down your PC on the system (OS) level is important too: i.e. enabling UAC, the Windows Firewall etc. Learn how to use these tools, become familiar and the threat of malware will decrease for you.

“Fake antivirus products, when run, appear to carry out a scan of the user’s PC and inevitably detect a series of infections which are actually false. The applications claim that in order to ‘disinfect’ the computer, users must buy the pay-version of the antivirus. If users fall for this ruse, they will be paying to remove malware which never really existed. The objective of the cyber-crooks behind these scams is, as in most cases, financial gain. Examples of fake antivirus products can be found here:”

Increase in Fake Antivirus Products Caused Adware Figures to Grow in Q3, According to Panda Security
Read it Here!!


UAC Revisited

After some very scary run ins with the spyware/malware tricks online recently, I have decided to reconsider User Account Control (UAC). In the Vista Control Panel/User AccountsUser Accounts (yes, that’s twice), you can turn UAC on or off. I now recommend turning it ON and commend Microsoft for making this available. It is basically a confirmation of whether or not to install software on your computer. It is a minor annoyance, but is worth the extra typing in of Administrator level account credentials.
At one point recently I was searching Google online for some type of Exchange related issue. I don’t remember the exact details but it was some general Exchange server related terms being searched. The 4Th result that showed up (meaning the miscreants paid Google for it) was a Geocities web site, which I felt was a bit out of place, but by the time I thought hard about it, I was being prompted to install anti spyware software in order to remove spyware software that only exists if you follow through the install: in sum, you install their software, they then classify it as spyware and then you send them $20 to fix the problem they created. Clever. Luckily I was aware of the scam. The immediate fix is to kill all instances of Internet Explorer (Control/Alt/Delte then Task Manager processes). But I know many people were not aware and followed through. The install creates a hellish problem.
If anything, UAC being turned on would give people a little extra time to think of the question: do I really want to install this? That is always a good question users should ask before installing software.

Save the Planet, Use Power Save Mode, Get Annoyed

Many people find the power saving features of Windows Vista annoying. Example – at the company I work at, we use Dell computers, now preinstalled with Vista Pro. The laptops, and even the desktops come configured by default to not actually shutdown, but rather to save your session, files, then go to sleep. Many people like this as the shutdown process can take too long (in their minds). This can be very bad though, if group policies are in place (example, log off scripts). They will not run if you are not actually logging off.

Also network settings should be considered. I know people who just close the lid on their laptop and run out the door carrying it. Problem? Depends. If they hook it up at home, and connect via VPN, then close the lid for the night, then turn it on again (wake it really) in the morning, then bring it to work, well network settings are bound to get mangled. Example – DNS settings from home may still take precedence over the work DNS, causing a slowdown or failure to connect to the file server.

I have seen this happen many times now, to the point where I always ask laptop users, “did you shutdown completely or just go into sleep mode”? Yeah, a reboot almost always cures connectivity issues, but an ipconfig /release, /flushdns, and /renew works frequently too.

So, in order to cut down on greenhouse gases and save energy, hardware vendors, OEMs, and Microsoft, along with many other corporations trying to increase that ‘GREEN’ image, are implementing hard core power saving features. Be careful though – your clean ways may interfere with your productivity.


Hide Inactive Buttons in System Tray

Many people become quite perturbed at the notification icons not showing in the Vista System Tray. Also, after clicking the arrow to see all icons, it goes right back to mostly hidden view. This annoys some people. Some also may prefer to always have all system tray icons in view, in order to monitor what is going on better.If that is the case, right click on the Start menu icon and select Properties. From here, select Notification Area and remove the default check box for “Hide inactive icons”. This will give the system tray a more static view of all icons, and it may be quite filled up! This, incidentally, may be a sign that too much is running on your system. Is this possible? And is it necessary? Only you, the user of the PC or laptop knows the answer.
Also, in the Notification Area, “Customize” offers some nifty options to hide or show icons, and gives a history of past tray items.

Vista Upgrade Advisor

Before jumping into Windows Vista, especially if you are thinking about an upgrade path or option on a current PC or laptop, it is always preferable to utilize the spiffy “Upgrade Advisor” tool from Microsoft.

Over at my partner site, I have a complete overview.

Upgrade with careful consideration of all hardware and software requirements!