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VariableGHz http://variableghz.com For the technically inclined. Sat, 11 Apr 2015 01:21:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.6.3 Bitcasa and the “infinite storage” vision finally hits reality. http://variableghz.com/2014/10/bitcasa-and-the-infinite-storage-vision-finally-hits-reality/ http://variableghz.com/2014/10/bitcasa-and-the-infinite-storage-vision-finally-hits-reality/#comments Fri, 24 Oct 2014 21:50:35 +0000 http://variableghz.com/?p=1889 bitcasa fails at infinite storage

Reality has its way of creepin’ up on Silicon Valley every once in a while. On Thursday, October 23, 2014, the Tech Crunch “disruptor” Bitcasa finally ceded to reality, despite a pretty long run of unreliably providing “infinite” storage. Unreliable, you ask? Read on ~

Those who know me well, know that whenever a company offers “unlimited” or “infinite” storage to me, they always end up regretting it and then backing out of it somehow. Every single time.

Somehow, though, with Bitcasa, I actually didn’t see it coming. I signed up very early on for their beta. For a long time, they had no pricing structure and I uploaded as much data as I could. I have terabytes upon terabytes of data that I would love to get in the cloud, yet, to date, I have only been able to successfully upload 6.5 terabytes of data to the Bitcasa service.

The first iteration of Bitcasa’s desktop client was so buggy it crashed trying to upload a 4GB ISO file. I subsequently broke the file down into split RAR files. At 500MB increments, it would still crash. So I finally split it into 10MB partitions and after a week, was able to get all 4GB into the service.

They’ve had iteration after iteration of their desktop client. Each time, reliability would not necessarily improve. In fact, after one significant update, many terabytes of data were suddenly missing. Bitcasa support helped me navigate through my old versions and restore the data that way. After an extensive analysis, they concluded that my “manifest” was too large (over 100MB), and because I was using “too many devices” (4), the manifest was not properly updating and causing it to delete files. As you might imagine, this was extremely alarming to me that Bitcasa had the ability to suddenly vanish terabytes of client data. This happened multiple times over the ensuing months.

Ever since that day, I went on a spree trying to reduce the manifest by creating large *.7z archives of all of my files rather than simply copying over the raw data. I created a hash database of each file since they were so large, I needed to be able to verify that the data was being stored perfectly by Bitcasa. I would use Bitcasa’s suggestion of using Robocopy to upload the data, but one of my massive 354GB *.7z archives failed a hash verification (among, later on, other files as well). Bitcasa support was stumped and suggested I re-upload it. So I did, four times, which took well over a month because their de-duplication (delta copy) system actually takes longer to “upload” than it does to simply upload the raw data at 2,000KB/s.

Later, Bitcasa suggested that I “reset” my account because they have updated their filesystem since the beta and it would resolve my many issues. After much planning, I finally did the “reset” and continued uploading data to the new account. The hash continued to fail on the critical 354GB file, and Bitcasa ran out of support ideas.

Shortly thereafter, I received the e-mail stating that Bitcasa is finally giving up on their “vision” of infinite storage, and giving me less than a month to select the “Pro” plan at $999 per year (up from my current beta-special $99 per year for infinite) or they will delete all of my data.

As a current infinite plan subscriber that is using less than 10TB of space, you have the option to convert to our new Pro plan, which offers 10TB for $99/mo. or $999/yr.

I don’t think that I can even download and store all 6.5TB of my data locally in that amount of time. Moreover, the only reason why I don’t currently have over 10TB of data on Bitcasa’s servers is because their service has never been reliable enough for me to simply continuously upload my data to their “infinite drive.”

I have never once recommended Bitcasa to anyone — the reason being simply that their reliability has been so bad. At this point, they have rendered themselves irrelevant (in the consumer space). There is absolutely nothing left to differentiate Bitcasa from excellent, reliable cloud service providers like ProSoftNet’s iDrive, which I do recommend to clients and friends.

Bitcasa is not only unreliable after years of development and twenty two million dollars in funding, but effectively a bait-and-switch fraud of a cloud service that has cost my business thousands of dollars in lost productivity and bandwidth.

This event is likely an ominous foreshadowing to what happens when the rest of Silicon Valley’s investments hit reality. No, Yo is not worth the millions of dollars in VC that it somehow raised. No, Bitcasa was definitely not worth the millions it raised. No, Snapchat is not worth the three billion dollars offered to it by Facebook.

Look elsewhere for a cloud service that won’t try to extort money from you and simultaneously provide unreliable service.

10/28/2014 Update: I get a little notification box from Bitcasa, click the link, and they can’t even perfect their own pitch to extort $999 from me. Nice.


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nothin’ new to see here http://variableghz.com/2014/07/nothin-new-to-see-here/ http://variableghz.com/2014/07/nothin-new-to-see-here/#comments Mon, 21 Jul 2014 06:37:49 +0000 http://variableghz.com/?p=1872 skeuomorphism

Full disclosure: this is a rant. I offer an apology in a #sorryNotSorry kind of way. Thanks for your understanding.

I registered VariableGHz.com in 2006 when I realized that I solve a lot of esoteric technical challenges. Solving these challenges are routinely necessary as part of the work I do, especially these days as a consultant. Since I have no boss, there’s nobody to teach me how to do the things that people pay me to do. So, I teach myself — and I have to document my findings somewhere. This was intended to be that archive.

Over the years, I’ve had people express interest in writing for it, and advertisers offer opportunities, changes to the style — all of that comes and goes. The end result has probably been a “profit” of about $250, not including server costs, or costs that should have been paid to my brilliant software engineer, Tim, for setting things up for me/us.

Blogging is a hilarious concept. It benefits only those websites that receive extraordinarily high levels of “unique visitors” — a metric that advertisers especially like. There’s all sorts of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) tricks to try and get your posts to have high visits, low bounce rate, lots of “likes” +1’s, re-tweets, and whatever else.

Over all of these years, I’ve seen plenty of websites with mediocre writing and coverage continue to receive a great deal of “inbound links” and the other positive social media attributes I listed above. A lot of this is simply inertia. Like Norton Anti-Virus, sometimes being first or early to something gives you all the benefit you need when it comes to digital networks. The discussion of centralization of power and computer networks is covered in great detail in the book Who Owns the Future? by Jaron Lanier (enlightened readers: no, the irony of using an Amazon link is not lost on me). If you are technically inclined in any way, I suggest you read it. If you are not technically inclined in any way, I strongly suggest you read it. :)

Watching the slow painful decline of the personal computer, especially recently, has been disappointing to say the least. There’s paradoxically more and less choice at the same time. There’s less creativity now than ever before. I’m citing Twitter, Yo, and Candy Crush as examples. I’m sure I could go on, but I bet you can think of a few yourself.

The most creative and innovative apps came out right at the beginning of the App Store in 2008. Do you remember Jelly Car? Microsoft’s SeaDragon? Early games had custom soundtracks not unlike the creativity of many old 16-bit Sega Genesis titles.

Have you tried using Office 2013? Is there anything in there that’s an improvement? Look closely. Is there anything beyond that vapid flat style that Microsoft introduced originally with Live Tiles and then ported into Windows 8? Shifting menus around for the sake of having a new product seems to be the only thing everyone is racing around to do. Limitations abound and I’m not seeing anyone take note of the irony of having the most powerful computing hardware ever all dedicated to running an “app” in full-screen — and yet still performance is a main selling feature of new phones and tablets.

I remember using my old laptop, the Compaq Armada 1585DMT (16MB RAM, 2GB HDD, Pentium 150MHz, 800×600 resolution, 1x CD-ROM, no USB ports). Fun fact: I still have it, and it still runs. If I launched a big program, like ReBirth while playing an mp3 (still pretty new at the time), the mp3 would stutter significantly while the program would load. It was so obnoxious that I would always make a habit of pausing music, loading the program, then resume playback. This kind of thing still happens all the time with apps and software, except that buffering/loading/etc. is incorporated into the software in a silent manner. How often when you click something in Mac OSX is there just silence? You have no idea whether the program is crashed or is still loading or what. It will just struggle in absolute silence, offering no feedback to the user whatsoever. That’s wishful thinking on the part of the developers and hardware designers. No HDD or I/O indicators? Network activity indicators? Nope.

To counter this (on a PC), I use a host of programs to tell me about what my software is doing: NetLimiter to keep track of upload and download speeds. This helps me with software with poor user feedback, like Bitcasa, of which I now have well over six terabytes of data in the cloud. I am almost always uploading 300+GB 7z archive files and am often unable to tell if the software is working or not — so I check with NetLimiter. Forensic software, like FTK, is often unresponsive or also provides inadequate feedback despite its enormous price tag. So, to that end, I use ProcMon with filters to provide a unique insight into whether the software is frozen, or is in fact still working.

I encourage you to explore the dot com startups from the late 90’s and early 2000’s, during the height of the crash. You’ll find more creativity yet many of similarities in absurdity as well.

I have concluded that my negativity surrounding the misguided adoption of Apple’s App Store debut  (Specifically Microsoft) has made it too difficult for me to write many positive things about computers anymore. I find myself in a constant state of negativity surrounding the launch of almost any new product, since they are almost always rehashings of old ideas already done in the dot-com bubble, or so unnecessarily dumbed down (app’d?) with artificial restrictions that they sap all the fun and creativity out of them.

I use a jailbroken iPhone 4S as my primary communication device, running iOS 6.1.2, the last stable jailbreak for iOS6 which also happens to be the last OS that incorporates skeuomorphism, an aesthetic I am unwilling to give up voluntarily. Due to Apple’s incredibly draconian encryption schemes, downgrading from any iOS is not only extraordinarily complex, but effectively impossible since there are no SHSH blobs for iOS 6.1.2 and jailbreaks are reportedly unstable with iOS 6.1.3 — therefore, if I buy a new phone, it is impossible. I have jailbroken many devices with iOS7 and it is a disappointment by comparison to 6.1.2 (e.g., since you asked: for example, important jailbreaks like iNoRotate do not work).

For as much as I can complain about iOS7, have you ever used an Android device? What a catastrophe of biblical proportions. Try typing on that keyboard. Everything about it, as Jobs once said, is “grand theft” — and I can’t help but agree. Except that Samsung lost key parts of the epic patent war, making it even worse. (since you asked: for example, there’s no “bounce-back” when you scroll to the end of a page, instead you just see an awkward fading blue rectangle…thing. It’s awful.)

There are so many variants of Android, malware galore, and many of them discontinued or otherwise abandoned in favor of the latest phones, which seem to come out every other day. If I were a software engineer I would absolutely hate to try to program a substandard app for this platform. Frankly, this sucks — and Google must have known all along that their free, open-source, Android platform would end up this way. They had to, they employ some seriously smart people, but didn’t care anyway. They let it happen like this.

So where has all this lead to? Flat, insipid designs, UX decisions that don’t have real names like the “hamburger menu,” weird gestures like clicking and dragging down from the top of an “app” to the bottom of the screen to end a process (oh, sorry, an “app”) in Windows 8, emojis to further flatten communication and the hilarious irony of the highest resolution mobile cameras and screens (ever!) to display the lowest possible pictures and videos (e.g., Snapchat.)

All this to say, there’s not much left to write about. Every new app is a variant of aggregated data in a database tied somehow with GPS, bluetooth, wifi, NFC, accelerometer/gyroscope, microphone and/or a camera. Yes, there’s lots that can be done, but the limitations are clear and six years after the introduction of the App Store — those limitations are more than evident.

Those who disagree with my particularly negative assessments are certain to keep writing about “new” apps like Facebook’s Slingshot. Have fun. By all means drop me a line if you encounter something truly unique. Until then, I’ll be back once this phase of computing is finally over.


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Something Old http://variableghz.com/2013/09/something-old/ http://variableghz.com/2013/09/something-old/#comments Wed, 11 Sep 2013 17:47:41 +0000 http://variableghz.com/?p=1856 aero glass iOS7

Something curious happened during Microsoft’s PDC in 2003 (See ‘geeks bearing gifts‘). They unveiled the then-exciting and anticipated Longhorn operating system that was powered in large part by the GPU. That is, each “window” of Windows would no longer be rendered in software. They would be rendered as full 3D planes using the GPU.

Why? Stability for one, also to offset the (GDI+) window draw that would otherwise consume CPU, to the GPU, for which it should be a relatively trivial task. Of course, the “Vista Capable” lawsuit proved otherwise, as a somewhat powerful GPU was required to enable Aero.

PDC 2003 even had a worthless but informative demo showing all of the various aspects of the “Longhorn” UI floating around and being manipulated in 3D with ease. No doubt using a powerful graphics card at the time.

It is this evolution that allowed Windows Vista and 7 to have the Rolodex-style “Flip 3D” effect achieved by holding down the Windows key and Tab simultaneously.


Aside from the stability and performance benefits, Microsoft’s decision to include a clever hardware-accelerated blur representing “frosted glass” looks beautiful.

Strangely, this feature which existed in both Windows Vista and Windows 7, is gone entirely from Windows 8. Ironically, the frosted glass blur effect is being introduced in Apple’s iOS 7 as a feature which provides “context” to your content. (Advanced users can follow these steps to bring back aero mostly in Windows 8).

The decision to remove (frosted) aero glass in Windows 8 makes little sense, and provides no benefits to the end user. Moreover, using the keyboard shortcut WinKey + Tab no longer reveals the somewhat-useful Flip 3D, but instead triggers an awkward “Modern” flat looking task manager which only switches between apps, not windows.

I had the great misfortune of having to set up two Windows 8 machines recently. Both were set up with Modern Mix and StartIsBack. The end result is a workable version of Windows 8, but flat and devoid of character. It feels like a broken version of Windows.

We’ve reached a point where shuffling around the UI is the end result. Windows 8.1 introduces a few badly needed new features, such as the new All Apps screen, dynamic lockscreen, more tile sizes, desktop wallpaper behind the Modern start screen — but this a company with over 61 billion in assets (after liabilities, see archive of their balance sheet, September 28, 2013). These changes seem trivial, hardly the monumental changes we’ve seen in the past from companies with much fewer resources.

Customization has been at the heart of Windows since the very early days of Windows. Even Windows 95 had a feature permitting users to simulate the Win 3.x experience (program manager). Those days seem to be long gone, and relying on third party applications to keep Windows in working order seems to be the only way to be productive going forward. From Windows to Gmail, oversimplification leads to a dramatic reduction of productivity and craft.

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Computing is Getting Worse http://variableghz.com/2013/02/computing-is-getting-worse/ http://variableghz.com/2013/02/computing-is-getting-worse/#comments Tue, 05 Feb 2013 23:53:04 +0000 http://variableghz.com/?p=1797 skydrive cannot be run using full administrator rights

The state of user interfaces has reached the point of diminishing returns. In retrospect, it is clear that many user interfaces reached their peak balance of ease and complexity in 2007. Since then, it seems that balancing new features has been a very difficult task for many companies. There’s a curious trend to hide functionality to an obsessive degree that inhibits average users from being able to find often rather obviously necessary features. The learning curve continues to grow tremendously despite the superficial trend towards “simplicity.”



Did you know that Windows 1.0 came with an “app” button? Yes, you could make any application running in Windows 1.0 in 1985, into an app by clicking this button:

windows 1.0 app zoom

That “Zoom” button, will make any application run in full-screen mode:

windows 1.0 clock app

Behold! A clock app for Windows 1.0! Incredible, I know. Microsoft offers no clear description of what the difference between an application and an app is. According to Microsoft in 2007, a program is “[a] set of instructions that a computer uses to perform a specific task, such as word processing, accounting, or data management. Also called an application.” (Source: Windows Vista help)

So, an “app” must be the same thing, except restricted to full-screen mode. Is that what an app is?! Full-screen? Yes, folks, the wave of the future is full-screen. Better get used to it … or fight back in a curmudgeonly way by downgrading your operating system, that is, if you can.

windows 8 maps icon

Full-screen, however, is markedly different in Windows 8 with respect to “apps.” See, full-screen in every other version of Windows permits you to still see common and necessary functions, such as the Start button/orb, the taskbar, system tray icons, clock, and most importantly, the minimize, restore and close button. It is incredibly unintuitive and difficult to find out how to close a Windows 8 app.

Windows 8 takes things to stupefying new heights by hiding features so well that they can only be discovered by accident. Not unimportant issues, either. Fortunately, much of this has already been covered by the WinSuperSite. Note, however, the brains behind the WinSuperSite is Paul Thurrott, who loves Windows 8 and hopes it to be the future of computing. He also recommended Windows ME “heartily” to “most” Windows users.

The overarching misguided takeaway from the success of the iPhone is that “apps” will make your platform successful. Or, more accurately, the term “app.” So, Facebook now has “apps”, Skype, your web browser, Ubuntu, as does your new Samsung refrigerator. Yes, indeed, the future really is here.

As an experiment, I ran Windows 8 on my HP TX2500 laptop for two months. Unfortunately, this period coincided with a federal criminal trial I was beginning. So, I had no time to “downgrade” it back to Vista. So, I was stuck with Windows 8 during my intense six week long trial.

windows 8 on a hp tx2500 notebook

This system went with me everywhere, 10 or more hours a day, and was responsible for handling over 5TB of data in this massive case. This was a mistake. Old habits die hard. For example, getting to “Computer” to access a flash drive is normally achieved by pressing the start menu, then clicking “Computer.” In Windows 8, there appears to be no easy way to access data via Explorer any longer. Instead, the familiar woosh of the Live Tiles appears. Enticing me to play with “apps,” which we now know are programs, that run in full-screen, without a close button.

I’m trying to get work done. Not play with moderately-useful applications restricted to full-screen use. Performing basic functions is incredibly difficult in Windows 8 — for example, how might I burn all the contents of a flash drive to a CD? Can that be done with Metro/Modern? I am brought back to using the legacy Desktop for everything — and even that comes with the awkwardness that is Windows 7, with all its associated problems: strange oversized taskbar with single icons depicting multiple windows, and curious default settings like hiding every system tray icon, including the ones warning you about out of date anti-virus software. It is evident to me that the user interface experience from Microsoft has plateaued at Windows Vista SP2.

This pervasive trend extends into other services, as well, such as Google’s Gmail. This dramatic article describes this user’s desperate attempts to continue using the “old” Gmail until its final forced conversion in mid 2012. Well worth the read, as it summarizes my feelings surrounding Google’s attempts to “simplify” all of their various services. They, too, like Microsoft, haven’t seemed to release any meaningful features since 2007. This trend continues through today with latest new “features” such as their “new compose.”

Indeed, the future of computing seems to be rearrangement, rather than truly increasing functionality and harnessing all of the power that took so long to develop. It’s curious that in an age of multi-core processors and terabytes of hard drives space, we’re all excited about reduced functionality and apps.

The cover of this article depicts a very strange error message. One in which Microsoft intentionally makes a product unable to run in an elevated mode. Running Windows with UAC enabled is to say the least, an annoyance but more often a repetitive, vague and unnecessary faux security measure for power users. I do not run UAC on my systems. The notion that Microsoft would make an executable unable to run with elevated privileges is a baffling decision, one that seems not to plague other cloud providers who make executables for Windows like Dropbox and LogMeIn’s new service, Cubby.

Perhaps Forbes said it best in this article, Microsoft Is Fast Turning Into A Sideshow.



Update 1: Trying to copy and paste from Google Docs — oh, sorry, Google Drive, tells me that I can’t do so without installing the Google Drive “web app.”

copy and paste app

The copy and paste worked anyway, without the web app. If you think I’m going to install a web app to copy and paste some text, you’ve got another thing comin’.


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PC ER: Downgrading Windows on an ASUS U47A http://variableghz.com/2013/02/pc-er-downgrading-windows-on-an-asus-u47a/ http://variableghz.com/2013/02/pc-er-downgrading-windows-on-an-asus-u47a/#comments Tue, 05 Feb 2013 01:11:12 +0000 http://variableghz.com/?p=1813 nothanks

It’s worse than I thought.

The new ASUS U47A comes with a whole host of “security” features to prevent downgrading of the operating system, Windows 8.

This particular U47A system was purchased in preparation for a federal criminal trial in Las Vegas in which I will be relying heavily on the system to serve up dense amounts of information. I learned my lesson from my last case to not rely on Windows 8 (more on that later), so, downgrading was part of the plan all along. ASUS’ position that “No,downgrading from Windows 8 to Windows 7 is not an option,” was unacceptable for me.



Attempting to boot from the Windows 7 DVD resulted in a “Secure Boot” BIOS error. Once Secure Boot was disabled, then it would just freeze on the Windows logo without any further information. So, I scoured the forums and discovered that it is indeed intentional, and as a result of a BIOS update. So, I downgraded the BIOS, however, this proved to be a chore, since ASUS prevented the downgrade of the BIOS as well.

The trick was to use ASUS’ built in tool WinFlash, executed via the command-line with the “/nodate” flag. Once the BIOS was downgraded to the magic version that would permit the installation of another operating system — installation was smooth and effortless.

This is a stopgap. This was only possible because there happened to be a compatible BIOS. In the near future, the prospects of downgrading are slim. A dire era of computing where choice is limited, functionality is truncated and productivity is stifled, looms.

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Wow, Windows 8 is Really Awkward (Review) http://variableghz.com/2012/08/wow-windows-8-is-really-awkward-review/ http://variableghz.com/2012/08/wow-windows-8-is-really-awkward-review/#comments Wed, 08 Aug 2012 07:43:12 +0000 http://variableghz.com/?p=1747 I’m not one to be easily confused by UI decisions. Comfortable with the command-line, and having used dozens upon dozens of different distributions of Linux, and nearly every version of Windows since 3.11 for Workgroups (and MS-DOS before that, v. 6.22) — I can’t say I’ve ever seen anything like Windows 8.

Windows 8 all apps

Granted, that’s how Microsoft wants it to be perceived. Perhaps they’ve succeeded in that cursory endeavor.



Some things are really nice, like the settings page and various media consumption “apps” in Metro. However, the movement between Metro and Explorer is truly jarring and is bound to baffle even the most tech-savvy of customers.

Windows 8 settings

Most confusing of all, are the awkward shortcuts. For example, Windows Flip-3D (Windows Key + Tab) is no more, it is now essentially a vertical Alt + Tab on the left side of the screen — except that it only switches between Metro “Apps,” not windows open on the Desktop (Explorer). Confused? This is fine, except for that if you aren’t familiar with the Windows Key + Tab combination, you’ll have to access it by hovering your mouse over the left side of the screen to reveal the “Start button” then move your mouse upwards. I guess that’s intuitive? (I am unable to take a screenshot of this using the standard keyboard shortcut).

Did you get that last part? There’s no Start button on the taskbar anymore. It’s just not there. To “show” the “button,” you must move the business-end of the mouse all the way to the lower left of the screen to reveal it. ALL THE WAY. Not kinda almost there, but all the way to the lower left. It makes absolutely no sense at all.

“Getting back” is a recurring theme in Windows 8. Because of the strange Metro/Explorer combination, it’s rarely clear how to “get back” to where you last were. I might be working in Photoshop one minute, then want to change my Bluetooth settings — which throws me back into Metro. Once I am done changing my settings, it’s not entirely clear how to get back to Photoshop. If I hit the Start button on my keyboard, it just takes me to the main Metro Start screen. Tap it again, and it’ll snap me back to the settings page. The technically inclined will be able to figure it out due to their experience with Windows keyboard shortcuts, but for mortals — this is going to be a real tough sell. The “correct” way to get back is to tap the start key, then hit Desktop and it’ll take you back to a program like Photoshop running in Explorer, rather than a Metro “App” — hmm. Oh, by the way, Microsoft isn’t calling it “Metro” anymore — but since there’s nothing else to call it, I’m stickin’ with it.

Looking at a photo in Metro’s Photos “app” — how do I get that photo into Photoshop to make some changes? How can I even identify the path where that file is located? Double-clicking on a file in Explorer by default launches the Photos “app” — jarring you into Metro.

Windows 8 copy file dialog box

The Windows 8 copy (dialog?) box is pretty awesome. It doesn’t have the slick Vista/7 upper-animation any more, but it is certainly more practical and precise.

When browsing IE in Metro mode, it defaults to a real full-screen browsing experience, which is nice, but how do you bring up the address bar? You have to right click — and your right-click cannot be in a text-box, or it will bring up context-sensitive options for that. Moreover, opening a new tab is awkward because it is hidden due to the full-screen mode and if you want to see your open “tabs”? You guessed it — right click somewhere randomly. I am confident enough to state that a majority of computer-users have enough difficulty with the concept of right-clicking as it is. Windows 8 exacerbates this tremendously. Moreover, there’s no continuity between IE on the Metro side, and on the Explorer side. So, your tabs in Metro IE aren’t “synced” with the tabs on the Explorer side. I can imagine a lot of users being confused as to where their content is.

I am typing this review using Metro IE. Instinctively, I find myself reaching towards the upper right to minimize this window to do something else — but there is no upper-right. If I wish to bring up an Explorer window to locate a path of a file, I have to remind myself to hit Start, then Desktop, then locate the path, then return to Metro IE. Sounds simple, but it’s very, very unnatural and unintuitive experience.

When you move your mouse to the top of a Metro “app,” the cursor becomes a hand icon. Click and drag, and the active “app” becomes smaller and draggable against the Metro backdrop — for a while, I could find no conceivable purpose to this action. Later, I was shown a video that demonstrated someone dragging it downwards using a capacitive touchscreen to close the app. This seems like an intuitive gesture, provided you’re shown it at least once. Using a mouse, it makes little sense, and far from a natural gesture.

I will say this — Windows 8 is the fastest Windows I have experienced by far. You know, aside from Windows 98 on a Core i7 or something. Nearly everything feels dramatically improved and smooth. I am running this on an HP TX2500 convertible tablet PC, not the fastest machine by a long shot and performance is most impressive. Not only that, but everything works out of the box on a stock MSDN install. WiFi, HP hotkeys, fingerprint reader, webcam, list goes on — nearly all of it works flawlessly without the need for any awkward HP drivers.

The task manager, by default, reminds me very much of the one in Windows 98. Once you click More Details, however, you see that it is packed with useful features and technical details. This is a tremendously welcome improvement. Obviating the need for MSCONFIG and third party tools to manage startup programs.

Windows 8 Task Manager

It is curious to note Microsoft embracing the buzzword “App” since Windows has been running Applications for well over two decades.

Speaking of Apps — this operating system should be fantastic on Microsoft’s upcoming Surface tablet. It appears as though Microsoft hired a decent creative director and ad agency this time around.

When your PC/tablet runs low on battery, it provides this nice overlay warning:

Windows 8 Low Battery Warning

Windows 8 comes with a nifty PDF/XPS viewer called Windows Reader. It’s a functional if Spartan application. On the HP TX2500, using the right side of the touchpad indicates a scroll-downward to everything except Windows Reader, it seems, just where you’d most want it to work. Curious.

Windows Reader, like most other Metro Apps leave you with a how do I close this? feeling. There’s a few ways:

– Drag from the top of the Metro App down to the very bottom of the screen.

– Move mouse on the hidden start menu (lower left), then move upwards, then right click on the Metro App and select Close.

– Press the Start key on your keyboard/tablet. That’ll “suspend” the app, which is basically as good as closed.

The Maps app is terrific, albeit lacking in features and depth for now:

Windows 8 Maps App

Oh. And how the hell do you turn off the computer? Let’s see:

1. Bring up Metro via the Start “button”;

2. Click your username, which may or may not be linked to your Windows Live account username thingy in the upper right (if it’s still called that?);

3. Select Sign out. Wait.

4. Click the lock-screen, or drag it up with your mouse/touchscreen.

5. Then you can click the power button in the lower-right, and select Turn off.

Five steps. Hey, life could be worse.

This operating system should be awesome on Surface — and abysmal on the desktop. Admittedly, I am sad to see Aero Glass toned down so much in Windows 8. I’m also sad to see Microsoft pull so many blunders one after another.

The revisions to Office 2010 are not a welcome improvement to Office 2007 by any measure I can determine and this operating system, Windows 8, takes Windows 7 and makes it even worse. If I had any common sense, I’d short their stock.

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Why Windows Vista (SP1+) is Better Than Windows 7 http://variableghz.com/2012/01/why-windows-vista-sp1-is-better-than-windows-7/ http://variableghz.com/2012/01/why-windows-vista-sp1-is-better-than-windows-7/#comments Sat, 07 Jan 2012 00:35:32 +0000 http://variableghz.com/?p=1694

You’ve been brainwashed. Brainwashed by clever marketing and the classic underpromise-and-overdeliver strategy employed by Microsoft to fix the mistakes they made with Vista.

I know, I know, everyone told you Vista was bad. You maybe even used Vista pre-SP1, on a “Vista Capable” machine way back when it launched and concluded that it was horrible. Or, maybe you heard all the bad press and skipped on it altogether? Stuck with XP, then switched straight to 7. Is that what you did?

Well, regardless, I am convinced that Vista is the superior operating system. So vastly superior, that I am going out of my way to ensure that it replaces all the systems that I have been tricked into installing Windows 7 on. At work, at home, and for my clients. I am going to make an argument in this article as to why I believe that Vista remains superior.

I challenge someone to list 7 reasons why Windows 7 is better than Windows Vista. Actual reasons. “Features” like Aero Snap, Jump Lists, and the new taskbar do not necessitate an entirely new operating system, so they don’t really count. Those could easily be implemented into Vista, if it were not abandoned in the wake of Windows 7 by the new CEO, Steve Ballmer. So, we begin with a mini history lesson:

Windows Vista was a major disaster. Microsoft suffered from heavily over promising on features (remember WinFS?) and failing to live up to their own hype; and they really hyped it up. Naturally, normal people don’t care or know when a new Microsoft operating system is launched, but the tech community does. So, to over-promise and under deliver, and miss your self-imposed deadlines again and again, the disappointment becomes palpable.

At the time, 64-bit processors were becoming more ubiquitous, and Windows XP 64-bit Edition had a plethora of issues with drivers and was not widely adopted — so they were under immense pressure to release the OS.

Vista Beta 2 came out in 2006, and it was an absolute disaster. If you looked at it funny, or moved the mouse too quickly, it would crash. It was completely unusable, but Microsoft insisted that it was intentional, and that they were planning to fix all of the bugs at once, at the end, prior to RTM. They did, although there was still the issues of heavy disk I/O in the final RTM as well as a large number of driver issues in the final versions.

Much of the problems with Vista stemmed from an overzealous Search Indexer, incomplete drivers from third party manufacturers, UAC, and underpowered systems. RAM was still moderately expensive at the time, and Vista did not work very well with only 1GB, which was common on low-end systems.

After Beta 2, Microsoft shipped release candidate versions and finally the RTM. They continued to fix all of the issues rapidly, releasing patch after patch. All the while, Vista was hammered in the press, blogs and forums repeatedly for problems stemming from the aforementioned.

This negative press was not without merit. Vista was truly very slow, and despite the improvements, they felt minor in the face of a computer that was so severely hampered. Especially when the computer was branded as: Vista Capable.

Finally, with Vista Service Pack 1 (2/2008), the operating system became relatively stable, and performance was drastically improved. However, plagued by the hasty launch, not enough enticing features over XP, and an insipid ad campaign (“the wow starts now“), there were very few who gave it a second review.

Microsoft later attempted to “prove” that they had fixed Vista with the Mojave Experiment, in which they secretly video taped people who had heard that Vista was bad, and had them interact with a supposed “new” operating system codenamed “Mojave.” Evidently, over 90% of the participants thought it was great and an improvement over XP and/or Vista, and expressed shock/surprise when informed that they were actually using regular ‘ol Windows Vista. Of course, bias is to be expected.

After the release of Service Pack 2 (4/2008) and subsequent updates, performance continued to improve and was on par, or superior to that of Windows 7. None of this ever made it to the press because Windows 7 was under-hyped, under-promised and over-delivered by releasing early, since Microsoft learned their lessons with Vista. Moreover, Microsoft’s “I’m a PC” ad-campaign for 7 was well executed.

So, what’s wrong with Windows 7? Why have I become so negative about it? Here’s 7 reasons why I think Windows 7 is a downgrade from Windows Vista (asterisks denote a subjective comment):

1. Windows 7 removes features

What’s missing? Well, where’d the QuickLaunch go? Oh, right, it got consumed into the massive start menu. Where’d the Show Desktop icon go? Moved, to the right hand side (this drives a lot of people batty, believe it or not). Windows Mail, Photo Gallery, Movie Maker, DreamScene, just to name a few, no longer come with the OS, they have to be downloaded manually with “Windows Live Essentials” (except for DreamScene, which is totally gone…why?!) — this is not an improvement by any means, just gives the illusion of “less bloat.” But don’t worry, you can put the QuickLaunch and Show Desktop button back — it’s just not exactly all that easy to do.

2. All system tray icons are hidden by default

Is this a problem? I think it is. Microsoft’s attempt to unclutter the taskbar by hiding all third party systemtray icons is a nuisance. How many times have you had to try to explain to someone to “click the little arrow to the left” over the phone to a client, family member, or friend? Hiding all systemtray icons does little in the way of solving the “problem” of the systemtray. As a result, I often find myself just showing all icons on the systems I administer and repair.

3. Libraries

After much annoyance, I finally get libraries. I understand why they exist. I even think it’s a semi-cool idea … but it doesn’t work. Try and copy the path of a file you’re looking at within a Windows 7 Library into another Explorer dialog box. Go ahead. I’ll wait. What’s that? You can’t?

Well that’s aggravating because everytime you click a shortcut like Music on your start menu, it takes you to the music Library, even if you just have one Music folder! Can you replace the shortcut on the Start menu to go directly to your Music folder? No. You cannot. I won’t add a separate section, but HomeGroups annoy me in a similar fashion. I’m sure they’re great for some people — but in general, I just get a lot of “what’s homegroup?!” from people trying to do very basic filesharing across their networks.

4. Windows Media Player 12

Have you used Windows Media Player 11? It’s pretty simple to use. Yes, the defaults are still annoying, but the interface is vastly superior. Try it yourself. Use WMP 11 and then switch over to v.12 which comes with 7 and see which makes more sense to you. The illogical layout of the software is mind boggling to me. This isn’t exactly a Windows 7 issue per se, but since Microsoft made a specific decision to remove WMP 11, I find it worth mentioning. Also, it looks like you can fix it here.

5. Search

This, for me, is the real trouble with Windows 7. In Windows XP, you can download the optional search indexer from Windows Update. Its heyday was really with the search add-on version 2.0, which was an extremely precise search indexer that you could control with a decent amount of precision. In Vista, Microsoft took it to the next level by deeply integrating the indexer and the UI throughout the operating system. Vista’s search solution, once the Indexer was optimized with SP1+, is very powerful and incredibly easy to fine tune. Observe the control you can exert over your search in Vista:

Now, let’s juxtapose this with Windows 7’s search “improvements”:

So, here is what I can’t do with Windows 7’s search:

Force a search in a non-indexed, or partially indexed location. So, let’s say you just added a folder and want to do a quick search in Windows 7… you can’t, because the indexer hasn’t caught up, and you cannot force the indexer to start on command. So you’re screwed. This is a constant problem that I run into all the damn time.

– Change the search path without first performing a search, and then scrolling to the very bottom of the search results. Who was the genius who designed this?

– Perform complex filters quickly. In 7, I have to use that awkward drop-down menu to manually select each filter, and then scroll back to the left to change my search parameters. This is incredibly cumbersome and unintuitive. Totally fails the grandma test. In Vista, if I want to find a song, I just type one word of the song and then click the “Music” button and bam — it appears immediately.

– Inconsistent search-related glitches (see also Bugs, #6, below) which for whatever reason cause known search results not to materialize. Video evidence of this that I documented is here, on a fully patched, legally licensed, MSDN version of Windows 7 Ultimate. I’m not the only one complaining, either. This is a real problem that simply didn’t exist before 7.

– Oh, and see how the text becomes blue in the search box once I type the word “in”? Well that’s because Windows 7 thinks that I am using a search “operator,” and thus it is not returning any results. If I type the exact same search query into Vista’s search box, it would return results. In order for me to make 7 search for the word “in” I have to put it in quotes in order to “tell” 7 to search it, and not to use it as an operator. Do you think your clients are going to figure that out? I doubt it.

6. Bugs that never get fixed

Microsoft has the capability to fix problems. They proved that with Vista. In my years with Vista, I observed Microsoft fix the operating system relatively quickly. Each problem slowly disappeared, and by the time SP2 hit, nearly everything that was a concern vanished. Yet somehow, that isn’t happening with Windows 7. My biggest #1 problem with Windows 7 is the Explorer refreshing bug.

Have a look at that link. You’ll find that this is a bug that has persisted throughout every single version of Windows 7, and despite innumerable complaints, it isn’t fixed. Windows 7 launched in 2009, and it is now 2012 — it remains unfixed, and inconsistent. I have lost track of how many times I have had to explain to clients that the reason why the file that they saved to the desktop/folder isn’t appearing is because it sometimes won’t refresh automatically and that they have to right click and hit refresh or press F5. Of course, F5 won’t work on Microsoft keyboards because you have to first press F-Lock to enable standard keyboard behavior. This is aggravating, and Microsoft appears unable or unwilling to fix bugs of this magnitude, despite their brilliant engineers on staff.

Other bugs are equally frustrating. For example, after installing a completely legal MSDN version of Windows 7 Ultimate, with keys from Microsoft, activated and operating for a few months, Microsoft released an optional hotfix to determine if your specific instance of Windows had been illegally activated. Since mine were not, I installed the patch on a couple systems that I had running at the time. After restarting, they were flagged as counterfeit copies. After calling, Microsoft double checked the keys and could not determine why they were being flagged as counterfeit. So, I had to manually remove the hotfix to get my legal copies of Windows 7 working normally again. Moreover, I then had to set all the computers to not automatically download updates because with Windows 7, you are forced to install downloaded updates when shutting down. You cannot bypass it as you could in Vista. This “problem” resulted in my having to unplug the systems that had downloaded the updates so that they wouldn’t install the broken hotfix.

There are of course many more, but those two are what come to mind.

7. Taskbar & Explorer changes

The Windows 7 taskbar is subjective. Some people like it just fine, and some detest it. I fall in the middle. I find the auto-grouping to look nice, but irritating as it slows me down. I find the missing quicklaunch, and the auto-hidden systemtray icons problematic, but we’ve already discussed that.

The “Lock” button on the start menu is missing in 7. It is now located under the “>” arrow to the right of Shut down. There’s no particular reason for this change that I can see. The “change view” button is unintuitively* located on the right side of the Explorer window, rather than on the left as in Vista. No reason I can think of as to why this was changed, and there’s no ability to customize it.

The Windows Calendar is gone from Windows 7. It came with Vista, but they removed it — but you can go out of your way and download it with Windows Live Essentials.

AeroShake. Arguably, AeroPeek and AeroSnap are useful, but AeroShake simply hides all background windows when you “shake” a foreground window. This often happens to me by mistake, and I find it irritating. It can be disabled, but it’s too technical for your average user. Moreover, why are these features OS specific? They could easily be appended to Vista, but Microsoft chooses to make them 7-only, as if they are a reason to “upgrade” your operating system (kinda like Siri on the 4S).

More importantly, sortable column headings only appear in Details view, now. There is no way to change this back.

The bottom line is: where’s the upgrade? All I am seeing here are minor changes, missing features, screwed up search, bugs that never get fixed, and other annoyances. Why on earth is this operating system still being priased so much over Vista?

I’d like to see 7 reasons why Windows 7 is an improvement over Vista (SP2).


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Is WPA/WPA2 Vulnerable to Brute Force? http://variableghz.com/2011/08/is-wpawpa2-vulnerable-to-brute-force/ http://variableghz.com/2011/08/is-wpawpa2-vulnerable-to-brute-force/#comments Sun, 07 Aug 2011 03:29:10 +0000 http://variableghz.com/?p=1641

Just for fun, I attempted to bruteforce my own WPA2 (“Wi-Fi Protected Access”) network using Elcomsoft Distributed Password Recovery. Since I had rather awful results in the past with *.PDFs, I thought, perhaps I would have better luck with WPA cracking. The PDF algorithm doesn’t work with GPUs, but it does work with WPA, so I thought that maybe I’d be in luck!

In order to bruteforce WPA/2, you have to capture a 4-way “handshake” (tutorial below). You can do this using BackTrack, or WireShark to listen and capture the packets to a file, specifically a *.CAP file. If you don’t capture it correctly, you won’t be able to even try cracking it. Not that this makes much of a difference…

So, is it possible to bruteforce a WPA/2 network? As it turns out, the answer to that is a resounding no. Shocked? The algorithm is so strong that the passwords-per-second that you can achieve in bruteforce are incredibly low. For example, I loaded the distributed agent on my Quad-Core (Q9450) system w/ just one NVIDIA GTX280, at full power it average just ~10,000 passwords per second. Even if I could double that to ~20,000 passwords per second, it wouldn’t even amount to a drop in the bucket. This would be more like a drop into the Hoover Dam.

Have a look at a tiny cluster of just7 systems (excluding the above-referenced rig), mostly CPUs (one GPU rig) w/ 11 cores going at it. All those systems combined produced a whopping 2,556 pw/s.

bruteforce WPA

WPA/2 has a minimum password length of 8 characters, and for good reason. This length is just enough to make things impossible without serious power.

So, at 2,556 pw/s, you’re looking at ~1.1 million days to recover an 8-character password. Hey, that’s only ~3,013 years! But wait, there’s more. I only have uppercase and lowercase letters and numbers. What if they use a symbol or a space? Then it’s even worse! Or, what if it’s a 9, 10, or 20 character password? Forget about it. Moreover, if someone has an irregular SSID. you won’t be able to run a rainbow table attack on it.

If, however, you somehow get control of all the current GPU power of Bitcoin… then maybe you could successfully bruteforce my WPA/2 network, anything short of that, you’re out of luck.

Forgive my sarcasm, I just cannot wrap my mind around why this is even offered as an option in this software. Under what circumstances would it ever be possible? OK, I suppose if you knew some of the characters of the password, you could mask off the known characters and bruteforce the rest. In that instance, it could be a useful tool.

But hey, if you really don’t believe me, and want to give it a try yourself, here’s what you need to do:

– Download a BackTrack ISO (“BT”) and burn it to a disc (or use a VM if you know what you’re doing). (Note: different versions behave…differently. I found that, for example, BackTrack 3 worked with a certain wireless card of mine while BT4 did not recognize the same card. So, if you find that you have trouble with one version of BT, try out another before giving up. It is a really tremendously valuable distribution.)

– Boot up BT and open a terminal (command-line prompt).

-Type iwconfig to determine your wireless card interface name. (For example, “eth1” or “wlan0”). If nothing shows up, then BT did not detect it, and you’ll have to do a lot of Googling to figure it out, or try another version of BT.

– Type airmon-ng start wlan0

– This will enable monitor mode on your wireless interface.

– It should be called mon0. So, go ahead and type: airodump-ng mon0

– From the list of wireless APs (Access Points), take note of the channel, ESSID and BSSID.

– Type airodump-ng -c [channel] -w [ESSID] –output-format ivs mon0

– The [ESSID] will be the filename. Note: don’t type the [brackets] themselves, just enter the data directly in. (As an example: airodump-ng -c 6 -w VGHzNetwork…)

– Open a new console.

– Type aireplay-ng -0 1 -e [BSSID] mon0

– This performs a deauthentication (“deauth”) — in order to acquire a 4-way handshake, someone needs to connect to the network. Since most computers automatically reconnect when the connection is interrupted, we use this command to kick them off. Note: You may need to do this several times, at different intervals. Depending on the router and devices connected, it can be tough to get the handshake. So, be patient. If no one is home, and no devices are connected… you can’t get the handshake no matter what you do. Someone must connect successfully.

– So, keep an eye on the previous console window and look for the words “WPA Handshake” to appear in the upper right corner. Once you see it, you can stop the console window (with Ctrl+C). The aireplay-ng window can then be closed as well since the handshake has been acquired.

– Type aircrack-ng -w list.lst [ESSID]

– Note: Remember the filename you specified earlier on. It will be a *.ivs file. Example: ESSID-01.ivs; type ls to locate it if you don’t know the name.

– You can use this file with ESDPR, or you can use the built-in dictionary attacker w/ aircrack-ng. You’ll want to use a pretty beefy dictionary — and it will likely fail, unless someone has a weak password consisting of something matching your dictionary. If you go this route, you’ll likely need a much larger dictionary than the one provided with BT.


Wi-Fi Protected Access

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How-To: Make Use of UltraVNC SC (Single-Click) http://variableghz.com/2011/06/how-to-make-use-of-ultravnc-sc-single-click/ http://variableghz.com/2011/06/how-to-make-use-of-ultravnc-sc-single-click/#comments Mon, 20 Jun 2011 04:45:36 +0000 http://variableghz.com/?p=1642

What is UltraVNC SC? It’s a solution for fast remote-access to a client’s system. It’s free, too.

What’s the difference between UltraVNC and UltraVNC SC? UltraVNC SC takes all of the complexities of setting up a VNC server, and puts the burden on the admin, rather than the client side. Forwarding ports, installing services, setting up passwords, configuring firewalls — all of that is transparent to the client. All the client has to do is double-click a custom *.exe that you set up ahead of time by following this guide.

So, let’s get started.

First, the prep work. You’re the admin, so you need to lock down your local IP and get your ports forwarded appropriately.

1. Determine your local IP. Start > Run > cmd > ipconfig — write down your local IP. Mine is What’s your default gateway? Mine is, yours will likely be similar.

2. Log into your router administration panel by navigating to your default gateway address using your browser. (Note: more complex routers may have other methods of getting into the admin panel, check your documentation).

3. Forward port 5500 on your local IP address. (Not to be confused with 5900, the default VNC port — make sure you do 5500).

4. Configure your firewall to allow connections over port 5500 (this is really important, don’t forget!)

Now that you’ve got that all set up, you have a choice to make. You can compile the .exe with your current WAN IP, or you can lock it down using something like DynDNS, similar to the way you normally do with UltraVNC. I strongly recommend you lock it down using DynDNS, and use the DynDNS Updater on your system. So, with that in mind, let’s continue:

5. Head over to the UltraVNC SC “Create” section of their website and download custom.zip.

6. Inside custom.zip, you’ll find 6 files. These files are there for you to customize and then have UltraVNC SC compile them for you in the cloud. You can customize quite a bit with this, but for this tutorial we’re just gonna get the remote access up and running as fast as possible. Once you master this, you can then go back and tweak with all the settings and options and make a very “pretty” UI for your client.

7. Extract custom.zip and open up helpdesk.txt. Inside, you will see a *.ini-like file which contains defaults for all the settings you need to instruct UltraVNC SC what to compile in the final .exe.

8. Under the first [HOST] section (“Internet support”), change the default IP to be your DynDNS (or WAN IP) and be sure to leave the :5500 (port) at the end. Then delete the second [HOST] entry “Internet support encryption” because we won’t be using encryption in this guide. Save the helpdesk.txt file and close.

9. Go ahead and delete the rc4.key file, because we aren’t using encryption right now.

10. Highlight all the files and create a *.zip file. Call it whatever you want (do not have a folder inside of the *.zip, just the data).

11. Now, we need to “compile” the .exe with the UltraVNC SC website. So, head on over to the “Online Creator” section of their site. For reasons unbeknown to me, they require you to use the username: foo, password: foobar. Then upload your newly minted *.zip file.

12. Download the resulting *.exe, which will be named whatever you called your *.zip file.

Now you’re ready to give the *.exe to your client, right? Not just yet — now we have to set up your host computer to “listen” for clients which are going to try to connect to you via port 5500. To get the UltraVNC viewer, you’ll need to have the regular UltraVNC installed, and just choose Viewer if you don’t want the server as well during install.

13. With the UltraVNC viewer installed, go to your start menu and find UltraVNC > UltraVNC Viewer (Listen Mode). Run it. When you do, you’ll see a green eye appear in your system tray.

Curiously, this icon is the same color as previous versions of UltraVNC server which would change from blue when idle, to green when connected. Nonetheless, you know it’s in listening mode by just hovering over it. Again, make sure your firewall isn’t blocking anything. If you want to “verify” that the port is listening, open up a command prompt and type netstat -a and check for port 5500 and a status of “Listening.”

14. With all the aforementioned in place, your clients are ready to connect! Send them your *.exe and it will look like this by default:

Most aspects of this awkward looking client executable are changeable. You’ll obviously want to change this if you plan to use this seriously. Your client simply has to double click “Internet support” to initiate the connection. When they do, you’ll be presented with a popup that looks something like this:

15. Click Yes and you will be able to see their desktop, and your client will be presented with this default, incorrectly spelled message:

Your client can close the connection by right clicking on the VNC icon on his/her system tray, and choosing close. Or you can close it at any time by just closing the UltraVNC Viewer window.

Important: My tests conclude that when doing an UltraVNC SC connection with a client running Windows Vista or 7 with Aero enabled, there is a 15-21 second delay even over lightning-fast connections. This is unacceptable. If you believe your client is running a system with Aero enabled, you must disable it or UltraVNC SC will be nearly unusable! Because your client is in dire need of remote assistance, they probably have no idea what Aero is — so make it easy for them and disable it via a simple batch script on their system which runs the following commands:

net stop uxsms (to disable Aero), and a pause with a message then, net start uxsms (to enable Aero). All you have to do is hit any key in the command prompt window before closing your session!

Download >>

You will find that with Aero off, the speed is super quick. It seems a lot more complex than it really is with all the steps laid out like this — but it’s really not that bad. Once you’ve got it set up, it’s easy to deploy to all your clients. Good luck!


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