Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Vista CD burn test

A Richard Rasker at Groklaw decided to try his hand at testing out Microsoft Vista for burning CDs. Not a happy experience.

"Having heard that Vista's CD/DVD burn utility by default uses a nonstandard format, possibly as a result of yet another one of Microsoft's lock-in schemes, I decided to check things out for myself. That would also give me a nice chance to see what Vista was all about.

"The plan was simple:

1. Locate a Vista box,

2. Bring empty CD's plus some arbitrary files on a USB stick, and

3. Burn CD's in several ways while making screenshots.

As it turned out, the planning was the simplest part by far. The rest is best described as a tale of frustration...

For starters, I decided to check the boot time. And lo and behold, the Vista desktop shows up in a minute and a half. But alas, not in a functional state. It takes over two more minutes before the hard disk stops rattling and the machine becomes fully responsive. So nearly four minutes in all. This is a pretty sad figure, especially when compared to the 55 seconds Mandriva Linux 2007 takes on my Toshiba laptop...

oh, right from the start, popups started, well, popping up from the System Tray. Something about Blocked Programs or the like. And this minor annoyance quickly grew into frustration as it turned out that these popups would reappear with ten minute intervals. According to the owner, this had something to do with security settings, and he said he'd spent hours trying to fix it, but the only thing that would work was to disable User Access Control (UAC) completely -- at which point the System Tray would start popping up nag messages that security features were disabled. I was beginning to understand why he didn't like Vista. I decide not to change anything and ignore the messages."

Vista uses a good proportion of its energy monitoring the user to make sure she is not engaged in Microsoft-disapproved practices.

"Preliminary conclusion

I set out to check whether Vista tries to trick users into burning media in a format that is incompatible with non-Windows machines. Judging from the various dialogs, I'd say that this could indeed be the case, but in all honesty, I simply failed to burn even one disk, readable or not, and I couldn't get Vista to reliably do the same thing twice. Perhaps this was caused by the other installed burning tools, or perhaps I did things wrong (I hardly ever use Windows, so I guess there's a bit of a learning curve), but in the end, I got stuck with no results. And drawing conclusions from no results whatsoever may be in the finest tradition of politics and marketing -- it's a no-no in journalism. Or at least it should be.

Yet this turned out not to be the end of the saga ...

Final Conclusion

In my view, the final conclusion is quite clear. In several ways, users are pushed towards the Live File System (LFS) format, which is only compatible with Vista and XP. LFS is the format which is selected by default, and there appears to be no way to change this that I could find. In many cases, the user doesn't even get to see this selection, and following the easiest way to burn a CD or DVD will almost certainly result in an LFS format disk. Contrarily, in order to use the universally readable Mastered format, users have to select it consciously every single time, and still confirm this choice every single time. As far as I could see, LFS is some kind of unfinalized type of UDF -- with UDF standing for Universal Disk Format. Even if UDF is a universal format, LFS most certainly is not. I tried reading LFS format media on my Linux systems but failed, even though I installed udftools. Yes, K3b (a great Linux burning tool) could tell me that there was data on the disks, but it was unable to show the actual data itself. All other tools failed with the error message that the disk couldn't be mounted.

As for why Microsoft pushes LFS, I can't think of any good reasons. The only advantage of LFS over the Mastered format is the option to add files to an already burned disk later on. But there is already such a thing as multi-session, so this argument is largely moot, and besides, people actually expect to burn a CD or DVD in one go.

For all the rest, LFS has only drawbacks. First, it's confusing to the user, with no less than four versions, aimed at distinct Windows and Mac versions. Second, and most importantly, it will create compatibility problems in the world of creating CD's and DVD's – a world that at the moment features a near universal support and compatibility of available formats.

The only true reason I can think of for pushing LFS is that Microsoft attempts to lock its users once more into its products. Innocent users who use Vista's tool to save their photos, MP3 collection or back-ups in general may find that all of a sudden, they have no access to their own data any more, especially when abandoning Microsoft products."

No comments: