Thursday 31 January 2008

Windows Live Mail on Windows Mobile 6

I have a Samsung Blackjack that I recently upgraded to Windows Mobile 6. I like it a lot and I want to use it for more stuff. I also have a pretty nice Windows Live mail address that is 10 characters long including all the @'s and .'s which was a pretty good trick I thought and it is a good enough e-mail address that I'd actually like to hold on to it for as long as possible and heck, you know, make use of it on my phone. Since Windows Mobile and Windows Live both got major releases\udates last year there was a good opportunity for some collaboration between the Live Services folks and the Windows Mobile folks to get something like "Push Mail for Hotmail" working and my understanding all along is that once I got WM6 running I could dive in and get cool integrated stuff, easy as pie.

To be fair to the Windows Mobile and Live Services guys they seem to have delivered what I'm looking for. You get this wonderfully integrated client with the WM6 platform called Windows Live for Mobile. As you'd expect you enter your credentials into it and you have  Search, Mail, IM and maybe more all working hyper snappy because the client is designed to deliver content perfectly on small screen devices over relatively low bandwidth links. Apparently, I believe. I can't say whether it actually does or not because my Windows Mobile 6 device doesn't include this helper app and that appears to be a common problem, at least with AT&T supplied devices. Because of the way the WM platform is engineered and the fact that OEM's and Telecom Carriers get to decide what is actually included in the package many of the WM6 devices that end users are buying have specific Microsoft supplied components removed. To make this even more of a pain you can't (easily* or legally**) get a copy of the missing bits and install them yourself manually. If optional OS components are not delivered by your Carrier\OEM then tough luck, you just ain't getting them buddy.

What's worse is that I can't even use POP\IMAP to sync Live Mail with the built in e-mail client on my phone because I don't have a premium account. The only option available to me on my phone is to use the http://mobile.live.com interface over Pocket-IE. That works and it's a pretty well streamlined web app optimised effectively for mobile phone use but it's nowhere near as slick as a native e-mail client would be.

In stark contrast to this I am able to set up and configure my Gmail account to work with Windows Mobile's built in e-mail client. The process even has an automated setup where the Windows Mobile E-Mail client automatically handles all the nasty POP\IMAP\SMTP server configuration stuff and the result works perfectly well me.

I understand that Microsoft has an operational strategy for Live.com that has led to the limitations on POP\IMAP access so that only paying subscribers get access to offline mail through third party app's and I understand that Windows Mobile has had to allow OEM's (and Cellular Telco's in particular) to remove some features they see as competing with products of their own. However the end result is the absolute lunacy of a situation where this degraded Windows Mobile 6 mail client provides me with a (far) better service from Gmail on Windows Mobile than I do from Microsoft's own Windows Live product.

I'm not without resources as far as the Windows Mobile Platform is concerned and since I got a bit irritated as I finished that last paragraph I decided to see how hard it would be to fix this. I pulled a copy of the relevant files from a WM6 platform setup which gave me the "Windows Live for Mobile" installation bits.  I was able to install it on my phone just like any other app and now I have a the nice compact Windows Live client with my Live Mail configured. Configuration is just as it should be - username and password only and off you go. So it would be possible for Microsoft to provide a one shot installer and config utility for any (application unlocked***) WM6 phones if someone was to really want to do it.

Anyway I have it working after a little work (and it works excellently) but I can't help but think that this is not a good way to go about increasing market share.

  • * For your average punter - clearly if you know about *-developer.com it will be fairly easy for you.
  • ** See above, it might be pretty easy but it's certainly legally suspect and in breach of someone's TOS
  • *** Most are these days by default but if not the net provides sufficient info on how to unlock most that aren't.

What's On Your Keyring

I'm a sucker for gadgets and Jeff Atwood's recent blog post about the stuff he keeps on his keychain had an effect on me that I can only describe as being just like the way a moth is forced by genetically honed instincts into spiraling into a candle flame. I know I should just take a look, admire the toys, and move right along but unfortunately I just keep coming back. I think I searched for that post to go back and read bits again about 10 times until I finally cracked and bought one of the toys.

So having succumbed to the flame I'm now the proud owner of a Fenix L0D RB80 60 Lumen LED torch. It's tiny - about the diameter of an AA battery and 1.5 times as long. This thing is bright enough to dazzle and leave you seeing spots in broad daylight if you're dumb enough to stare directly at the beam (Doh!). It throws out about as much light as a 10 watt traditional incandescent bulb which doesn't sound like much but I'm amazed that the technology has advanced so much that a light like this can run at that intensity for about an hour off a single AAA battery, and for many hours at its lower intensity levels.

Here's a shot of it with a few other toys sitting on my mouse pad to give an idea of scale:

EveryDayStuff 

From left to right: Logitech VX Revolution - the best working (as opposed to gaming) mouse I've ever had, Samsung Blackjack, Fenix L0D RB80, Peter Atwood Bottle Bug and my trusty old Victorinox SwissTool which is coming up to 8 years old and still as good as ever

Yeah I know I shouldn't be allowed near shiny things but what can you do. :)

Wednesday 30 January 2008

Google tests QR Codes

A minor story is doing the rounds on the Interwebs about Google's experimental adoption of the 2D Barcode for use in their print advertising. Google's 2D Bar Code info page is pretty thin on information but they make it clear they are using QR Codes* which have gained some some momentum in Asian markets over the past few years.  Joel Spolsky reckons they are just as stupid an idea as CueCat's barcode palns were when they tried something similar 7 years ago. He was definitely right then and CueCat definitively lost that battle but I wonder if he's as spot on as he usually is with this one.

He makes one important claim that is central to the use cases that QR codes (and Semacode from which it is derived) are supposed to enable - "typing URLs is not hard".

I beg to differ. Typing anything on almost any handheld device is a hassle. Yes the iPhone has a good virtual  keyboard and my Samsung Blackjack has a very good QWERTY Thumb-pad but entering any sort of complicated or long string of data into any mobile device is painful. Yes it's possible but it's not intuitive and the lack of fundamental capabilities like cut\paste on a large percentage of mobile platforms makes it even worse.

Typing http://www.google.com is not very hard even on a 12 digit standard phone and it's certainly pretty easy on my Samsung Blackjack but something like http://www.amazon.co.uk/MANFROTTO-MN190PROB-PRO-TRIPOD-BLACK/dp/B000MQFQU6/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=gateway&qid=1201606992&sr=8-1 certainly presents a nearly insurmountable obstacle in terms of usability. The general use case for these codes is to provide a simple mechanism for users to lift usable data from a physical object (which might be a display screen) nearby that may be time consuming, hard or damn near impossible to enter manually into a handheld device in the time available. In terms of use cases think for example about a user on an escalator in a metro system seeing an interesting advert for a concert they might want to check out wanting to capture the relevant details as they pass, or a user at a trade show wanting to get more technical data on an item on display. You can certainly take the time to accomplish these things by hand but the idea is to make it easy enough so that the potential number of people acquiring and making use of the data is increased significantly.

The above fairly tricky URL for a Manfrotto Tripod on Amazon UK becomes the following QR Code:

Manfroto-QR

(There are quite a few online QR Code Generators - I used this one to generate this)

That captures reliably on my Samsung Blackjack in about 2-3 seconds. I haven't bothered to try and type out the full URL but even on a PC I'd be hard pushed to enter that in under 20 seconds even if I chose to navigate by going to Google and searching for "Amazon Manfrotto MN190ProB" so the convenience and usability arguments have some merit.

I used the QuickMark QR Code reader for Windows Mobile Smartphone to test that code. It's available for free (once you register) and it's small (255kb) and quick to install. They support a pretty wide range of platforms and at a quick glance appear to support a pretty comprehensive selection of the most popular handsets. QuickMark's reader is pretty snappy - I can unlock my phone, navigate to the reader, launch it and read the above code in about 10 seconds. QuickMark also understands some additional meta formatting so it will give you a link to the URL if the encoded data is a URL, or prompt you to add the data to your Contacts if it's a contact card format, send and SMS if the format is SMS and a whole lot more. Apart from QuickMark there are a few other offerings, Google themselves have put some work out on Google Code to encourage folks to build an Android QR code Reader and there is also a sample QR code reader under development for the iPhone.

Microsoft started some limited experiments with 2D Barcodes using the QR Code format via Windows-Live Barcodes which was open to the public to play with briefly in late 2006 but it seems to have gone into lock down at some point since then and I get access denied pages when I try to link to it's current (supposed) home at http://confucius.live-int.com/.

There are some limitations - the most obvious one is that mobile phone cameras are pretty pathetic and even though the QR code standard supports codes containing up to 3-4K of text the practical limitations of camera resolution (fairly low quality 2 megapixel) prevents my phone reading anything more dense than 145 character codes. That prevents some interesting use cases at the moment but it is more than sufficient for linking a phone to a fairly complex URL that can then do a lot more - especially if the link contained geo coordinates for example.

Anyway I'm clearly a fan. I've played with QR codes a lot in the past and I've done a lot of work with Barcode scanning equipment and believe that the reasons why barcodes are so useful in a commercial\industrial context (reliability,convenience,speed, context control [scan that particular box, read the code on that particular bag ..]) could apply very easily to consumer contexts if there was a sufficient critical mass of consumers equipped with devices that made it easy to consume them.

That last point is a big problem though, while I now think that a majority of the current generation of mid range consumer hand held devices are capable of supporting a 2D barcode reading application today only a very, very small minority actually have one installed and working. Unless the manufacturers and vendors pile onto this almost universally (as happened in Japan) then it's simply not going to get the momentum it needs to take off.

So unlike Joel I am quite glad to see that Google has joined Microsoft in doing some experimental work with them as that might be a sign that we will start to see a significant enough percentage of devices becoming available that support QR code scanning by default. Once that happens then maybe we will all join the Japanese in having our phones tell us about the nutritional content of our burgers.

* QR code is trademarked by Denso Wave, inc.

Friday 25 January 2008

My Latest Toy

Last year when I was visiting my sister I got to play with a fantastic toy that belonged to my youngest nephew Jim (aged 5). The Nerf Maverick as it's called has simply got to be the most awesome toy gun ever made. Now I hate guns, the real kind, with a passion but I always had a soft spot for the toy variety and this thing is like something that has come to earth from a universe where outlandish weapons like Deckard's hand cannon from Blade Runner or Judge Dredd's Lawgiver really exist.

I was keeping an eye out for one (for me) whenever I was shopping for toys for my various younger relatives but I never found it for sale here in Ireland. Late last year I found that ThinkGeek had them for sale for the excellent price of $9.99 each. They have a very funny video demonstrating that you can (if you are sad enough) use them to star in your very own Live Action Doom Movie.

Anyway I went and bought two last week and they arrived yesterday - here's one of them on my laptop to give you an idea of how outlandish they are.

nerf-maverick

OK that could also be used to show how small the M1330 is. :)

As if they weren't enough fun as they are a couple of folks have taken the base units and modded them to improve the range and increase the barrel spin speed. There's even a market for pre-modded Mavericks.

Anyway - I'm quite happy with my $19.98 purchase, the cats however now hate me :)

Samsung i607 Blackjack Windows Mobile 6 Update

I love my Blackjack but I have to say that Samsung really need to reconsider their approach to end user applied firmware updates - this sort of upgrade process is nuts. Their previous effort was even more complex but this WM6 update is still way out of line in my opinion. If they want help building better versions in future - I'm available and I build far more user friendly Windows Mobile configuration applications than this.

Anyway - all joking aside this sort of stuff should never have been let go further than the engineers who hack the platform stuff together. First the user has to load in a bunch of oddball USB drivers before attempting to start the update. The user then has to enter some top sekret codes into the update launcher before it will launch. Then to get the phone into a flashable state it has to be started up using some demented finger yoga to get the USB client bootstrap loader to launch rather than the OS (although this is not hugely unusual for Windows Mobile Devices to be fair). Once the update starts it proceeds through three different firmware update stages using a different USB communications mode and driver at each stage before finally rebooting and returning as a Windows Mobile device (using yet another USB driver).

On top of all this the stupid procedure does not work under Microsoft Vista which meant I had to jump through a whole bunch more hoops to get the above process to work in a Virtual Machine running XP, as I mentioned earlier.

The good news though is that the update worked and I now have Windows Mobile 6 Standard on my trusty old Blackjack. I haven't had time to dig into the changes in detail, I assume that they follow the typical WM6 Standard  vs WM5 SmartPhone features, however one stand out improvement for me is that Google Maps for Mobile's cellular signal location awareness capability (My Location) now works as it should, this had been terminally DOA under WM5 on the Blackjack and had caused a lot of negative sentiment on the GMM discussion forums. Sweet.

Thursday 24 January 2008

Virtual PC's

I've had a couple of things that I needed to do over the last few days that were made a lot more practical through the use of Virtual PC's of one flavour or another and I got to try out the main players on offer for us low budget souls. I initially checked out some VM solutions to see if I could find a quick and compact way to set up a Linux\Apache\MySQL\PHP (LAMP) test box and then today I discovered that Samsung's Windows Mobile 6 update for my i607 Blackjack will not install via Windows Vista so I needed to set up a Virtual Machine to run XP. I was quite disappointed with my initial efforts but eventually one of the offerings came to the rescue.

Microsoft Virtual PC 2007. It's neat and slick but it complains like all hell when installing on Windows Vista Home Premium even though the only logical reason for it to do so is to discourage casual use. Frankly either make it simply not install or shut up about it folks, the warnings make you sound really lame. Anyway it works fine but the OS interface feels a bit treacly, boot time was fairly slow and a bunch of things were missing - most importantly for me there was no way to handle USB pass through and that was a deal breaker as the Blackjack Update that I needed the Virtual PC to run has to be carried out via USB. I also found it a bit odd that there was no obvious way to save snapshots of the OS state. Adding the Virtual Machine Guest OS Extensions improved the video performance but the mouse responsiveness never felt great.

VMWare. I didn't get very far with this but played around with the Virtual Appliance Marketplace looking for an appliance that would serve as a test bed for the LAMP stuff I'm working on. Maybe I just didn't understand the point of the whole packaged appliance thing but I couldn't figure out how to save an appliance once I'd configured it to suit my needs. It's probably something obvious but it ticked me off a lot that I couldn't seem to do it so I jumped ship.

Finally I returned to Innotek's VirtualBox. I say returned because I actually started out with it but had abandoned ship because I was unable to figure out how to change the base screen resolution when building an Ubuntu VM. That problem didn't seem to arise with the XP install I needed for my Blackjack WM6 upgrade and VirtualBox supposedly handled USB pass through too so I gave it a whirl. Once XP was installed and I had added the Guest Additions I had my first pleasant experience - VirtualBox has a fully integrated mouse mode so that the VM integration with the Host OS is seamless. Like VPC2007 the Video integration is very slick once the required drivers have been installed via the Guest Additions - you can resize the guest window just by dragging it, the Guest XP OS adjusts the desktop resolution on the fly. Guest snapshots are available - I didn't really test them out but they seem to be pretty fast and reliable. The best news (for me) was that the USB pass through mode works very well. It's not flawless and I had one or two headaches with the Blackjack update as the device switches between four different USB drivers during the OS Update procedure but it is simple enough in principle and it should work for most devices without any trouble. Once you have connected a device it becomes visible in the VirtualBox Guest OS VM Shell's Devices->USB Devices menu and you can click to toggle whether it remains visible to the Host OS or intercepted and passed through to the Guest. Overall performance seems to be better than VPC2007, certainly there's none of the treacliness. I'll be holding on to this XP VM for a while though Virtual Box has definitely become my new favourite app.

One final point I tested both VPC2007 and VirtualBox with hardware virtualization support enabled and disabled and for the life of me I couldn't tell what difference it made. My PC (a Dell XPS M1330) definitely has hardware Virtualization support and it is enabled in the BIOS. Can anyone give me a compelling explanation in a couple of lines?

Tuesday 15 January 2008

Some real life CFL data

My rabid objections to Minister Gormley's proposed mandatory imposition of energy efficient lighting on us poor slobs in Ireland can be found here and here and here. I have calmed down somewhat now and worked out the numbers. Overall I still think his carbon footprint numbers are still a bit high but his cost saving data for consumers actually looks reasonable. There is a clear benefit for me in switching to CFL or LED in terms of cost and carbon footprint, and I suspect that the same would be true for the vast majority of Irish householders despite my initial skepticism.

When we moved into the new apartment in September we had to fit out all of the light fittings so I have a handy starting date to use for some real world life time data on bulb lifetimes and I'm going to keep track now that we've got to a point where a significant number of them have blown and need to be replaced (5 out of 16).

All of the data is in the spreadsheet that I've shared here for the propeller heads if there are any apart from me. The headline numbers are below.

  • Daily Incandescent power load - 2.435 kWh
  • Daily CFL power load - 0.426 kWh
  • Net Daily Saving €0.20 / 0.48kg CO2

This takes into account the (minor) loss in heating resulting from the switch. So for us we can expect to save €72 per annum and prevent 176kg of CO2 emissions.

You can buy cheap CFL's but I wouldn't at the moment and I don't think anyone should, you'll still save money with the better ones. The first bulb to blow in this apartment was just such a cheap CFL that I put in our storeroom despite its 6000 hour life claims. Reasonably decent CFL's can be bought for around a €5 to €7 a pop that actually produce light that is (at least initially) reasonable to live with. We have 16 bulbs in our apartment so replacing them all with CFL's will cost us about €80-€120 initially and the ongoing replacement cost will be about half that every three years. In general good CFL's should give you many years of life but my experience makes me dubious about the common claims of 6-10 years. They certainly do degrade before failing and my experience is that those that are switched multiple times per day have a usable life of about 3000 hours vs the 1000 hours or so that has been my experience with typical incandescents in busy rooms. Incandescents are quite cheap but nice ones are not all that cheap and you will spend €1 on average at least across the typical bulbs in a house or apartment, and you will replace them 3 or more times as often. The actual cost of switching to my more expensive choice in CFL is closer to €2-€3 per bulb than the up front cost of €5-€7.

Overall then the choice of switching to CFL breaks even for me in terms of cost alone in about 6 months give or take a month or two and should yield a saving of €150-€180 over the course of the expected lifetime of the most heavily used lights. In general I think it's reasonable to assert that such a switch should save about €30-€40 per person per annum - given that there are two of us in this apartment and I think our consumption is probably typical.

The Carbon footprint effect is slightly more straightforward. We could reasonably expect to save around 90kg of CO2 per annum with this switch. If that is typical for the population as a whole then the annual saving could be in the order of 360 million kg. That's not quite the 700,000 tons of emissions that Minister Gormley talked about in the budget but it's twice as much as I had initially estimated and this number does take into account the loss in heating angle and to be fair to him the margin for error in this is at least 50%. One detail that I haven't factored in is the difference in the energy required to manufacture them but I can't see that it could be significant enough to make a serious difference, I will follow up on this when I can find any real data about it.

I still hate the light that CFL's produce so I'm going to do some research into LED's which are a much better technology all round - they produce much nicer light and I believe they are a lot less nasty to manufacture and dispose of.

Saturday 5 January 2008

Logo Fun

Daithi noticed that I'd been having some fun with the Peccavi Logo. I came across some comments about web application piracy made by the author\owner of CoolText.com , Brian Livingston, and decided to see why his application might be good enough for some scum bag to try to rip off and found that it's a hoot.

Wednesday 2 January 2008

What I've been Reading

I haven't been reading much of late but I'm hoping that the new year changes that as I've got a ton of stuff that I really do want to get to. As usual my yet to start list is getting longer and I keep starting books that I don't plan to but that's half the fun.

Finished:

Bill Bryson: "Shakespeare: The World As Stage" I prefer Bryson's more serious stuff and like "The Mother Tongue" and "A Short History of Nearly Everything" this is a thoroughly enjoyable and refreshingly frank summary of what is known about Shakespeare and of his contribution to our language. It's pretty short and quite light reading but it is highly recommended.

In Flight:

Colin Tudge: "The Secret Life of Trees" One of its review blurbs describes it as "One of those books you want everyone to have already read". I wouldn't quite go that far as I think you have to have a significant tolerance in order to keep interested in a book that is more than 50% one big long list of the various types of trees. Fortunately I am one of those and I'm revelling in it - especially since he seems to think that Kapoks really are magnificent (like me). He's just slightly too flakey for my liking but I can't really hold that against him - he clearly loves his trees and it is a book that I wish I'd had when I was young enough to realise that I should have always paid more attention to the trees I came across.

Richard Dawkins: "The God Delusion" I'm a bit ashamed to say that it has taken me more than a year to get around to reading it but I had a lot on last year after all. It is every bit as good as I'd hoped - not only is it substantially better written than some of his earlier books (which are excellent ideas books but those I've read were not as well written as this) but more importantly his core argument is very compelling, well thought out and coherently presented. It's definitely a book to make you think clearly - provided you are reading it in a frame of mind willing to do so.

Yet To Start:

Cormac McCarthy: "The Road"

Robert Harris: "Imperium"

Craig Murray: "Murder in Samarkand" ( thanks to Daithi.)

Jon Ronson: "The Men Who Stare At Goats"

Oliver Sacks: "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat"

 

Is it a Security Issue?

One of the Blogging Old Guard, Dave Winer, has been complaining vociferously about what he regards as a huge security issue for Apple.

My initial reaction was that he was out of line. The computing professional in me would say that if he relies heavily on any computing resource for his livelihood then he should have [a] frequent, reliable, tested and comprehensive backups of his data and [b] Backup hardware that he can switch to on demand and [c] all of his sensitive data should be encrypted. He handed his drive over to Apple without ensuring that it was safe to do so and that means that the mistake was his.

On reflection though that attitude of mine reflects a fundamental problem with the overall approach to security that is endemic among "IT Professionals". It should be reasonable to expect that you can avail of a warranty repair or vendor supplied service without worrying about who might end up with your credit card details, e-mail account access or (as in Dave's case) proprietary source code.

You can't of course and Dave's complaint is the sort of thing that needs to happen in order to make the various vendors involved (Apple, Microsoft and the IBM, Dell and the rest).

With a little more reflection I am beginning to think that Dave doesn't go far enough. It seems to me that he just wants to get his old hard drive back so that he can dispose of it thoroughly and prevent anyone stealing something from it in the future but he's already handed control of it over to Apple so from a purist InfoSec perspective he's already lost the data and that's the bit that needs to be fixed. He should be able to give a broken hard drive to anyone who might be able to fix it for him without worrying about losing control of who gets meaningful access to the data on it.

There is an opinion that Bitlocker [style] full disk encryption is the answer but I'm not so sure it's either sufficient or necessary. I think there is a need for full disk encryption in some cases but that an "un-mounted by default" secure store for "all things sensitive" is a better approach - that would include user profiles (and cookies\passwords) for web browsers, cached credential stores for network resources\e-mail\web services... as well as the more typical sensitive documents like letters to your bank and so on. You can hack together solutions for this today that are moderately safe but for normal consumers to benefit properly it would require some OS level re-architecture work and new versions of critical applications to work with the new architectures but I see in this the foundations for a compelling approach to making "secure by default" a desirable Operating System feature for consumers and small businesses.

Latest on Gaming Blues

So as I reported before Christmas Dell eventually sent a technician out to fix my problem by replacing the motherboard and the NVIDIA 8400GM discrete graphics adapter.

This replacement fixed the problem that I was having perfectly. The machine no longer tanks when playing Direct X games and I've played all of the various engines that trigger my issues for a couple of hours each now so I'm definitely convinced that the problem is resolved. Specifically Unreal Tournament 3, Half Life 2 Source Engine games (Portal, TF2, HL2) are all fine and 3dMark 2003 now completes.

I was initially impressed that Vista(32) accepted the motherboard change without a hitch but it became apparent shortly afterwards that there was a very serious and fundamental problem with the OS even though there were no errors being reported. After the hardware swap I was unable to access certain system components - the Control Panel and most of its subsidiary parts (like the Display Properties dialog). I was able to access the NVIDIA screen properties dialog, the Device Manager and the Windows Event Viewer (which reported no relevant errors even though there clearly were things going badly wrong, go figure) but not Windows Update or the Add\Remove Programs dialogs. Some digging led me to this post on the NVIDIA support forums which helps resolves problems with the Software Licensing subsystem after hardware upgrades. This made some sort of sense given the hardware change and WGA's problems with that and there clearly were problems with the two Software Licensing services on the machine. I was unable to get them both running correctly so I eventually decided that I had to reinstall Vista again. I had already prepared for this before Dell arrived and had everything either running from portable storage or backed up so the decision was pretty easy.

The reinstall allowed me to completely remove the multiple backup\restore\media partitions that Dell chooses to install that I have no use for. I had also messed up the partitioning a bit early on when I'd installed Ubuntu 7.10 and allowed it to do its own thing on the drive. Fixing this was a bit of a pain as Vista's installer had lots of problems removing some of the partitions, in the end I had to restart the install about 5 times to get it to a point where I had a completely empty drive that Vista's installer was able to recognise and after that there were no particular issues with the install. Thankfully I'd kept a copy of all of the latest Dell drivers and application updates that I'd downloaded so reinstalling them was pretty painless.

I then hit Windows Update immediately to let it do it's thing and it went merrily about its job until it ran into this problem with KB929777 failing to install with error code 8000FFFF. The recommended manual uninstall and manual install worked but I was surprised that a general release hot-fix would be that poorly behaved.

Once I'd reinstalled all Windows Update encouraged me to update the NVIDIA drivers to v156.69 from the Dell supplied version 156.55. That resulted in Portal (based on HL2's Source engine) failing to launch but had no impact on anything else so I downgraded back to the Dell drivers.

Finally I went to restore my data. Now I generally keep all of my data in a "portable" directory rather than use the default Windows data structures but this time I'd opted to use the default document folders for some stuff and I used the native Vista Backup to back this stuff up. Silly me. Now I didn't lose any data in the end which is something to be grateful for but Vista's native Backup application is abysmal, take my advice and don't ever use it. I've reverted to keeping my data in a folder structure that I understand and can backup with a single Robocopy. I think I'll be keeping things that way for good.

It's turned out fine for me in the end but I can't help thinking that this has taken far too much effort to resolve.