My year with Microsoft Vista.

Today sees the 1st birthday of my current laptop so a happy birthday to it.  The machine was a top-of-the-line, fully tricked out Dell Latitude D830, Core 2 Duo 2.2Ghz, 4GB RAM, 160GB HD, nVidia quadro NVS graphics plus the new snazzy 1GB Intel TurboCache Memory module.

Because of the specs – you need a 64bit OS to make use of the 4GB – and the TurboCache part only works on Vista I thought I would give Vista 64 a try – a serious try. I would give Vista a whole year as my primary OS.  Here I am one year later to report my findings.

The is a company laptop, and Vista is not yet an approved OS for use in the workplace, but I work in IT and I’m quite proficient at taking care of myself, plus some IT members are evaluating Vista as an option for corporate roll out. I also installed Automatic Updates from Microsoft to stay current (bypassing the corporate WSUS server that sometimes takes months to push out updates because of close periods, quarter ends, etc).
Thus there was minimal risk to this endeavour.

Setting up a new machine so you can get your work done is always the most painful part of getting a new computer, this proved to be the case again with Vista.  However, the pain was double in that many of the drivers I needed didn’t exist or were hard to source plus some of my loved devices just didn’t work any more (my MSI USB TV dongle has suffered the indignation of remaining in my drawer for a year).

Ricoh were really good with drivers for the multifunction printer/copiers in the office.  Installation of the driver was a bit fiddly, but once done it worked very well.   However, for anyone with Vista it means the drivers need to be installed manually whereas XP users get the driver delivered to them when they connect to the printer.

Most of my regular applications worked fine out of the box, Eclipse, Visual Studio, Office (well you would hope this would), McAfee AntiVirus, however I had significant issues with other necessary applications.

Initially the corporate F5 VPN didn’t support 64bit and I had to wait some months before were were given a beta version to test. 

VMware Workstation was just into beta supporting Vista so I was able to use that from the off which was useful – because I virtualised my old XP laptop and was able to keep that around for legacy app support for the things I just couldn’t get going in Vista – VMware, I love you dearly.   However, I am also our VMware Virtual Infrastructure goto-guy and to this date VMware Virtual Infrastructre Client does not install natively on Vista 64… I had some pretty nasty hoops and hacks to go through to get that installed. I wouldn’t like to have to do that again. Come on VMware, sort it out.

Microsoft AD and Exchange Admin Tools. What can I say? They don’t work.  Microsoft acknowledge that they won’t work on Vista.   Your prime adopters of Vista in a corporate department are the IT people – but we *need* the admin tools to do our jobs.  Thus we need XP.  How can you expect corporate IT departments to push Vista to the workforce when we can’t use it for our basic Windows AD/Exchange administration?  Major, major oversight.

Yahoo Messenger was another troublesome application, and still is.   Before the "beta vista" version, it frequently crashed out and would not remain connected.  However since the beta vista version arrived it has been stable but and it is a big but, RAM usage in it is insane.    I have just started the application and have had no messages sent or received and it is already claiming over 500MB of ram.

Which neatly leads me on to…. RAM usage.   Everything takes more RAM in Vista.  Vista introduces some new processes to the mix like the PresentationFontCache.exe (520MB) plus lots more buried in svchost.exe processes (the DLL service runner program). If I total up the RAM usage in svchost.exe processes I come to 1.8GB ram.
This laptop has been powered on for maybe 30 minutes and it is using 2.5GB ram – what applications are open? Firefox, putty and Task Manager.   By the time I fire up Outlook and some other apps I use I’ll be looking at 3.8GB – which isn’t necessarily bad, it is within my physical RAM limit so the machine isn’t swapping.  However it does bring into question the reason for a 64bit OS in the first place – to make the 4GB ram available.   Would I have been better taking the addressing limit of XP and living with 3.5GB ram?

Finally, and the cruncher.   This machine is slow, sometimes and frequently, painfully frustratingly slow.  I fully expect that it will take minutes from pressing the power on button to getting to my Desktop.   Powering down sometimes takes longer and frequently hangs/locksup/bluescreens when powering down while in the docking station (I can’t believe Microsoft and Dell still haven’t figured out this constant and widespread problem after all these years – this is a constant bugbear for Dell owners).

When in operation the machine will start to act slowly, to the point that I can see the putty terminal window repaint itself.  Firing up SysInternals task manager shows the CPU(s) at 100%, sometimes it is McAfee’s updates, sometimes other apps, sometimes nothing is apparently consuming the CPU, but all the same, it is pegged at 100%.   

This week already I have had 4 "coffee events" – where the machine gets so slow that you decide you may as well go and make some coffee in the vain hope that the machine will rectify itself by the time you get back.   If it is still stuck when you get back then it is a measurable coffee event.   The responsiveness will return perhaps within 5-10 minutes, but it is frustrating and supremely annoying.

My conclusion?

Vista is not a terrible OS by any means.  It is Windows, it works like the Windows and for the most part behaves in an acceptable fashion.  However, I find it hard to justify the resource requirements – I don’t see the benefit.   Vista doesn’t do anything more than XP did except for perhaps the annoying UAC controls and the feeling that somehow you are slightly better protected from the world.   I constantly ask myself if XP would perform better on this machine (which isn’t a slouch) and now that I have completed my Vista year the next (if you’ll pardon the pun) window of opportunity available to me, I will be reformatting and going back to XP.
Vista is years ahead of its time – maybe in 3-5 years when we have Eight Core 10Ghz CPUs it might perform to an acceptable level.

Script to generate a list of valid email recipients from a qmail setup

Last week I set-up a Postfix+MailScanner+ClamAV anti-spam and anti-virus mail relay server. Testing seemed all good, except that it was scanning lots of bogus email addresses, e.g. to nosuchuser@pgregg.com

Postfix provides a relay_recipients file (at least thats what the MailScanner setup called it) where you specify the specific email addresses that you are prepared to accept email for.

In the old days we used SMTP VRFY – which people dropped because it was a way to verify good email addresses and clean spam lists.   However, by dropping it it seems the spammers just ignored cleaning and just blast out to any and all email address they could find.  The irony being that the problems are now worse because we are constantly being bombarded by spam to bogus addresses.

As my primary email system is (still) qmail I needed a way to build a list of valid emails that qmail would accept – so I set about writing a perl script that would process the control/virtualdomains users/assign and dot-qmail files in the same way that qmail would.

The result is here:
  http://www.pgregg.com/projects/qmail/makevalidrecipients/MakeValidRecipientsList.pl

Feel free to make use of the script – hopefully it can help others too.   Note that it doesn’t handle ~alias users, nor if you have a database backed system – but manual and vpopmail setups should be just fine.  No warranty implied or given though :) Use at your own risk.

Once I added the relay_recipients file to the postfix relay and waited a few days, awstats reported that 99.8% of all my email was to bogus addresses – wow!  That is a massive saving on CPU (antispam/av scanning) and traffic.

Enjoy.