Archive for the ‘Tips’ Category

Solution for the slow network for Virtual PC on Windows 7

Computers, Software, Tips | Posted by AB
Dec 13 2009

(Note: the following is a long version of the story. If you want the short version, just the solution, skip to the last paragraph below.)

As I wrote before, I use virtual machines extensively to do work on my computer. I used Windows XP Pro as the host OS for several years now, and it worked quite well. I skipped Vista and kept using XP, mainly because it did not seem like Vista would add any significant benefits to my host computer. However, a few months ago, Windows 7 became available, and while testing my products with it, I was so impressed with its speed, stability, the look and feel, that I decided it was time to upgrade my main host computer to Windows 7.

So, a week or so ago, after backing everything up, I took the plunge and installed a fresh copy of Windows 7 Ultimate. It went well, I was happy. Of course the first application I added to it was Virtual PC, because I needed it to run my virtual machines that do the real work for me. It went well, except for a few surprises, such as the new user interface of the Virtual PC console, that looked like a regular folder rather than a separate program. Also, it upgraded the integration components of my virtual machines and as a result it started using the Remote Desktop to display the virtual machine desktop. It added the ability for the virtual machines to recognize the USB drives attached to the host, but at the same time it downgraded the display capability of the virtual machine to display 16-bit colors only, that caused the fonts on the virtual displays not to be anti-aliased quite as nicely as before.

Those were minor things, though, and after trying my virtual machines for a couple of days, I decided I could live with the new version of Virtual PC. One thing did bother me, though: when I tried to browse the shared network folders from within the virtual machines, the browsing was quite slow. Literally, it took a few seconds just to navigate from a directory to a subdirectory. It was especially bad if the directories contained a lot of files. Copying files over the network was painfully slow, too. However, the network was slow only when using it from within the virtual machines. Outside, the network was as fast as it was before: I could browse the virtual machines from my host computer, and connect to other “real” computers from it, the speed was as usual.

I searched the web and found a few reports from people describing the same problem, but no real solution. The only suggestion was to replace the new version of Virtual PC software with the previous one, Virtual PC 2007. Although Microsoft does not officially support Virtual PC 2007 on Windows 7, a few posts I found suggested that it was quite possible to install and use VPC 2007 on Windows 7.

After contemplating it a bit, I decided that having fast network access from within the virtual machines was worth the trouble and did just that: uninstalled the new Virtual PC, and installed the previous VPC 2007 with SP1. The good news was that even though the virtual machines were previously updated with the new version of the integration components, they kept working well with VPC 2007, as before: the full 32-bit colors of the display were available, the old console window was back, and most importantly, the network access was as fast as before.

I was happy for a couple of days, until I noticed a strange problem happening: after using the virtual machines for some time, while switching back and forth between them and the host computer, at some point the virtual machines would stop accepting the TAB and ESC keys. That was a new problem that I did not experience before. Again, I started searching the web for a solution, and found a couple of suggestions, such as the one about creating a local security policy for the file VPCKeyboard.dll, but none of the suggestions worked: after several minutes, the TAB and ESC keys would stop working in the virtual machines (all of them at once), and the only way to restore them was to shut down all virtual machines, and restart the Virtual PC console application. Then work for a few minutes and do the restart again. Needless to say, that was extremely annoying.

Having spent two days trying every possible thing I could come up with, including searching for the updated drivers, reinstalling the virtual machine additions, trying alternative ALT+TAB managers, turning the Aero theme on and off, and so on, I decided that having the slow network was not as bad as it seemed after all. I removed VPC 2007, and reinstalled the new version of Virtual PC software.  The TAB/ESC keys problem went away, the slow network access returned, and I started searching the web for a solution again. Accidentally, I came across of an old Microsoft support article that applied to Virtual PC 2004 and Virtual Server 2005, that mentioned a solution to a problem of a slow network access similar to what I’ve experienced. Out of desperation, I decide to give it a try, and … it worked! I guess, this problem was fixed in VPC 2007, but resurrected in the new version of Virtual PC (the old bugs are had to die, it seems). Anyway, here is what solved the slow network access in Virtual PC for me (from the Microsoft support article , Method 2):

– On the host computer,  backup the Registry, just in case, and then:

– Run Registry Editor (regedit.exe) and select the following key:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\Tcpip\Parameters

– Create new DWORD value named DisableTaskOffload and set its value to 1.

– Restart the computer.

After I did the above, the network speed from within the virtual machines became as fast as it was before. Hope this helps someone!

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Getting online in New Zealand

Computers, Tips | Posted by AB
Mar 14 2009

It’s March of 2009 and I’m in New Zealand, on a month-long expedition, driving from town to town, ferrying from island to island, trying to understand what kind of country it is. (I like it so far! Except for the sand flies.) As you can imagine, keeping connected to the Internet is critical for my kind of business: I need to get online at least once or twice a day, or face a wave of angry messages from my customers. My trip coming to an end soon, and since I’ve been through quite a few of different places, I thought I would share my findings here, hopefully someone would find it of use when traveling to NZ.

Most cafes and hotels I stayed had computers in their lobbies with an Internet connection. If your online needs are modest (like you need to check your Gmail account, browse the web, or talk to someone via Skype), such computers should do just fine. Many have the coin slots attached, and for about NZ$2 per 20 or 30 minutes you can get online. The problem with such computers is that usually quite a few people want to use them, and you may spend some time waiting in line. The big advantage though is that you don’t need to bring your laptop with you, which could be important if you are traveling light.

Myself, I needed to bring my laptop with me, because it’s an integrated part of my business: I need it to access my customer’s database, and I also need to have at least a light version of my development environment in case a need for a quick bug fix arises. It means that taking the easy road and using the online computers I described above was not an option: I needed the full wireless access to the Internet.

Most hotels did offer the wi-fi access option, but not all: you better ask specifically about the wireless Internet availability before committing to the place. Keep in mind that even if a hotel advertises the wi-fi option, it does not necessarily mean it is actually available: in more than one place the wi-fi router was online but had trouble accepting connections. More than once I had to ask for a refund of the fee I paid and go search for the better wi-fi signal in the nearby cafes.

The common wireless access providers that I’ve encountered in more than one place were as follows:

Zenbu

This provider charges for the bandwidth rather than for the connection time. At first I was not sure how much bandwidth I would need, it seemed like the usual 50MB that you could buy for NZ$5 was not a lot. Turned out that was the most economical access that I encountered. To minimize the bandwidth I turned off the automatic Windows and anti-virus updates, shut down various programs that maintain constant Internet connection (Skype, RSS reader, etc.) and kept active only the actual programs I needed at that time. In such a mode, I was consuming less than 10MB per hour, doing just email checking and light web browsing. However, when I needed to talk to someone via Skype, the consumption quickly rose to about 1MB per minute. Still, it was pretty cheap.

One thing to keep in mind about Zenbu is that if you buy your access ticket at the reception, you can use that ticket only at that specific place, you cannot roll it over to another location. However, if you pay directly to Zenbu via their web site, you can use that bandwidth at any location.

The Internet Access Company, The Internet Kiosk, SiteWifi

These providers charge for the time used (they also have the bandwidth limits, but I have never reached them). The important thing about using them is not to forget to log off from the wireless access. This way, you can keep the remaining minutes and use them at another place serviced by the same provider. If you forget to log off, the minutes may keep rolling, even if you are not connected to the Internet anymore. These were not as economical as Zenbu, their prices were in the range between NZ$3 and NZ$8 per hour.

iPass

This was a complete waste of time. Before going on this trip, I tried to prepare myself: I’ve searched the Internet for the available Internet providers in NZ, and I came across the iPass service. From their web site it appeared like they had a lot of access points throughout New Zealand. They offered a Global Wi-Fi account for US$45.00/month with no commitment requirement, and it looked like a good thing to have. So the day before departure I opened an iPass account.

I had the first (and only) opportunity to use my iPass account in Auckland, at the Hyatt Regency hotel. I powered my laptop, opened the web browser, and indeed there was an option to login with my iPass account there. Unfortunately, my login name and password were not accepted. Having tried a few times, I gave up and went to a nearby cafe to connect via some other provider.

That happened to be the only place that I encountered that offered the iPass login option. None of the other places I stayed at had it available. So I contacted iPass about canceling the account and getting a refund. It took one email message and two phone calls, but I did receive the refund. Still, the iPass experience turned out to be just a waste of my time and energy. I guess I should take it easy and not get  ‘overprepared’ next time.

Private providers

Some of the places offered the private connection options, that is the time you buy there could be used only at that specific location and nowhere else. These were obviously the least flexible options, but what could you do if there was nothing else available. The prices usually were between NZ$3 and NZ$6 per hour, and one place offered 24-hour access for NZ$8, which was pretty good.

If the reception confirms that they do have a working wireless access point, it’s better not to hurry and buy the ticket at reception. Before doing that, I would usually try to connect from the laptop and see what kind of access was at that particular place. Chances were, the access would be provided by one of the common companies (see above) with which I’ve already opened an account at one of the previous places. If so, I could use the leftover minutes before paying for more time. Only if there was no option to connect and pay via the web browser I would go and buy the access time at the reception.

Happy connecting!

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