Slyck.com
Search Slyck  
Anonymous
Welcome
 
File-Sharing on Windows Vista
June 28, 2007
Font Bigger Font Smaller
Windows Vista has the dubious honor of probably being the most controversial OS that Microsoft (MS) has ever released. Critics have relentlessly assailed it as a resource hog, an attempt to copy OS X, being too little too late for an upgrade from XP, and/or as simply being XP with some window dressings.

Of all the characteristics of the new OS, perhaps none have received more attention than the content protection measures built into it. Combined with MS' announced Windows Genuine Advantage verification features, the issue has rapidly snowballed into a huge sphere of negative sentiment that Microsoft themselves have surprisingly done relatively little to mitigate.

Many users worried that their unprotected content would refuse to play, and there are various claims floating around the internet that this is the case. Others have fretted that Vista would block file-sharing altogether.

Due to the nature of most file-sharing, the lack of official information from MS or major tech news sources is understandable. Up to this writing, I was aware of only one such article - Paul Thurrott's Compatibility Guide, in which he reported that two programs widely used for content acquisition and sharing, AnyDVD and uTorrent, work perfectly. On the other hand, there seems to be a flood of uncertain information on the internet in the form of blog and forum posts.

As such, the Slyck team felt it was time to look into the issue ourselves and provide the file-sharing community with a clear picture of exactly what is and isn't possible on Vista.

PLEASE NOTE: This article is not intended to be a review of Vista itself. Nor is it a statement for or against that or any other available OS. It is certainly not an argument for or against switching or upgrading. Its primary purpose is to provide accurate information as to what works and what doesn't on a particular platform.

Testing was done on a Toshiba Satellite A135-S4527 laptop running Windows Vista Home Premium. It can be picked up from your local Circuit City (for those who live in the US) for $599.99. Specs are quite modest:

CPU: Intel Core Duo (1.73GHz)
RAM: 1GB 533MHz DDR2 SDRAM (PC2-4200)
GPU: Intel Integrated Graphics
HDD: 120GB 5400RPM SATA

During initial setup, Vista rated the system 3/5 for expected performance.

The investigation into file-sharing on Vista will cover 3 main areas: the operating system, clients, and hardware.

Operating System

Users do well to familiarize themselves with the following if they wish to do anything significant with Vista:

UAC - User Account Control, basically does for Vista what sudo does for *nix systems by giving users limited authority by default. Since many clients were developed on/for XP in which admin authority was a given, this is where users are likely to have the most issues, albeit minor ones that can easily be overcome. It can be disabled by following the instructions here, but that was not attempted for this article since it is not recommended for security purposes any more than disabling sudo would be a good idea for Linux.

UAC is invoked even for some native MS apps, so it's likely to be a permanent fixture in the Windows experience from here on out almost regardless of the software vendor. You won't see it for every program you launch, just some. This suggests that are ways to develop UAC-friendly apps, but perhaps most developers haven't gotten around to doing so yet. Programs, options and links that require a UAC prompt will have a small "Windows shield" logo superimposed upon their own icon(s).

Run as administrator - this allows users to run programs with admin authority. It can be invoked once by right clicking on an executable and selecting "Run as administrator," or permanently by right clicking -> Properties -> Compatibility -> and selecting the matching check box. Note that this option does not necessarily exempt the program in question from UAC. It only generally gives it access to parts of the OS that it normally wouldn't have.

Compatibility mode - Accessed from the same Properties -> Compatibility menu as "Run as administrator" above. Allows users to run programs as they would on previous Windows versions.

Permissions - Since users now have limited access by default, access to some files and folders often have to be enabled manually either to allow access, period, or to allow access without a UAC prompt. Users will probably need to do this for external hard drives, as it was necessary for this test. It is accomplished by right clicking the object in question -> Properties -> Security. Depending on how many files you have on the drive, you may have to wait a while as the OS changes the permissions settings on each one. Doing so for a 250GB USB2.0 drive took a couple minutes, but was a lot better than having to go through a UAC prompt for nearly every operation within Explorer.

In rare cases, you may also have to grant yourself ownership of a particular folder. To do so, click "Advanced" on the Security tab -> Owner -> Edit.

The reason for the above complications is to prevent major changes to the system without the user's specific and deliberate consent. Whether or not this is effective is the province of security articles and will not be debated here.

File transfer issue(?) - When transferring files from one drive to another and emptying the recycling bin, Vista will attempt calculate the remaining time to complete the operation. For some reason, it often spends more time doing the calculation than actually performing the requested operation. This appears to be because it tries to calculate the time first before starting the transfer. So far, MS has not delivered a default Windows Update for this issue, but has provided a hotfix for it. The hotfix isn't absolutely necessary, but if you're annoyed by the above problem, it should help you out. Once it is applied (no reboot needed), Vista will still do the time calculation but actually execute the transfer simultaneously, thus bringing the process back to XP-like speeds.

Other issues that users may have heard of, but are not very critical for the most part:

DRM - Our experience was that if you avoid protected content, you'll never see the DRM in Vista, period. MP3s, XviDs, etc. are handled with aplomb and unhindered regardless of their source. Not once was the impression given that the OS was maliciously interfering with my media files.

Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) - 5 days into using the system, while applying updates regularly, this was never encountered.

Clients

For obvious reasons, not every client out there could be reported on, but care was taken to test the most widely used ones. Some common non-P2P apps for content acquisition and playback were also tested.

Alt.Binz - On first startup after installation, the program complained that it couldn't load unrar.dll. When it closed thereafter, Vista presented a message saying that it detected that the program hadn't run correctly, and provided an option to run it as administrator. Accepting that option eliminated any further issues.

Aside: Vista apparently has a feature in which it can actively detect software compatibility problems and both offer and search for solutions of its own.

Ares - Works perfectly. Also, the bug some users experienced on XP with Ares killing their network connection appears to have been resolved.

Cabos - Works perfectly.

eMule - Works perfectly. May take a while to connect to Kad on initial startup after installation, but that has been a problem on XP also. Successfully imported incomplete downloads from an external hard drive previously attached to an XP Pro SP2 system and completed them.

Filetopia - Initial run attempt ended in nondescript error from the program before it even loaded. Running as administrator and in XP SP2 compatibility mode fixed that problem. No other issues.

Frostwire - Works perfectly.

KCeasy - This is the only client I had unresolved issues with. Connections seemed to be a bit iffy. On one run, it connected to all 3 networks (Gnutella, Ares and OpenFT) well, while on the next (done the next day), it could connect to the OpenFT network only. Even then, the connection was held for only 15 minutes, after which no connections seemed possible.

Markus Kern, KCeasy's developer, responded to our email inquiry.

“KCeasy's built in patcher for tcpip.sys, which raises the concurrent connection limit introduced in Windows XP SP2, is not working on Vista which might be one reason you see these disconnects," Markus told Slyck.com. "There are no other networking issues with KCeasy on Vista that I am aware of. The connection problems you see are most likely of general nature and may simply go away if you use KCeasy for a while so it is able to collect a stable node list.”

There are of course some things which could be done to generally improve KCeasy's connection stability but I haven't been working on it for a while due to time constraints.[/quote target=_blank>

Your mileage may differ, but on this end it was essentially zero with KCeasy. However, since the client is FLOSS, we can only hope that another developer will step in soon to patch the problem if Kern is unable to.

mIRC - Given the demise of AutoXDCC, I almost didn't consider any IRC clients until Slyck.com member lordfoul pointed me to this excellent guide that works just as well with Vista as it does with XP. Caveat: you will probably have to grant yourself ownership of the C:\Program Files\mIRC folder as Vista will not allow you to unzip the XDCC browser script to that location otherwise. Refer to the "Permissions" section above to see how to do this. Once that is done, operation is essentially flawless. Unfortunately, mIRC's biggest bug is one that has nothing to do with the OS it runs on - it costs $20 ;).

Pidgin - Formerly known as Gaim, Pidgin is an IM client, but it can also be used for file-sharing via IM file transfers. No issues were observed besides that pressing Esc no longer exited IM windows as it did in XP.

Shareaza - Crashed once on initial run when I tried to open my Library (shared files) using the Folders view within the app. Problem could not be reproduced, and operation was perfect thereafter.

Soulseek - Works perfectly.

uTorrent - Works perfectly.

VLC - An iPod video from MariposaHD crashed the client repeatedly* No problems with other formats.

Windows Media Player 11 (built-in) - Works perfectly. No playback issues whatsoever, including the high CPU usage reported by some other users.

Exact Audio Copy - Works perfectly with no UAC notifications at all. Given that EAC is actually recommended in published official MS OS guides, it's very likely it was tested for compatibility in-house.

foobar2000 - Works perfectly.

Firefox - A few bugs. 2 upload sites, Box.net and fileden.com, didn't work. In the former case, I couldn't even open the "Add Files" dialog, while on fileden.com the upload never even started. An email to support@box.net produced the response that Vista is not supported (Windows 2000, XP and OS X are). However, since IE7 handled both tasks easily and without complaint, I believe it is reasonable to conclude that the problem lies either with Firefox or the upload sites themselves.

WinMX - I did not test this software due to WPNP's now defunct status. However, according to WinMXWorld.com, there is a patch to enable connectivity.

Hardware

Given the buzz on the internet about Vista being a severe system hog, I expected a slow, poky experience with the specs on the test machine.

WRONG.

Even with Aero enabled, response is snappy and the PC multitasks easily without so much as an audible fan noise increase. Aside from the file transfer issue mentioned at the outset, no complaints about stability, speed or capacity can be made. Given the fact that this machine is equipped with integrated graphics, a high powered graphics card does not appear to be necessary either.

RAM usage is large by default, but that's because of a feature of Vista called SuperFetch. SuperFetch actively learns the user's program usage habits and preloads programs/files that are likely to be used into memory. The philosophy behind this is apparently that empty RAM, like idle CPU cycles, is about as useful as a 7 car garage with a single motorcycle in it. The real challenge is NOT how much RAM is used, but how well it is used and how fast data can be moved into and out of the existing capacity. As such, Vista's RAM usage will almost always be high and so is not a fair performance metric for the OS.

Test experience mirrors that of ZDnet blogger Ed Bott's 3rd Day with a similarly equipped $422 Dell desktop. Even on a (relatively) cheap machine, the OS barely seems to make the PC break a sweat. In fact, if the test laptop did this well while rated only 3/5, it's likely that a high powered OEM machine would have performed even better.

Conclusion

If you have XP Pro SP2 and are happy with it, you don't need Vista as long as the former is still supported, especially for P2P. But if you already have Vista or were planning to get it anyway, there's no need to wait for SP1. It's ready to go as is.

My firsthand experience leads me to believe that a lot of the negative "issues" buzzed about the OS on the net are just inaccurate, malicious or plain wrong. File-sharing is easy and indistinguishable from XP (minus the Aero look) once you understand how the OS is set up. DRM (or at least the effects thereof) is practically nonexistent unless you personally decide to buy protected content.

Ironically, if you're a Linux user, you may be slightly more comfortable with Vista's new "security everywhere, access denied by default" set than the average Windows user (this is not to be interpreted as an argument for or against switching).

Because there are quite a few things that I didn't have the space to cover here that are different between Vista and XP, there will be a slight learning curve even for experienced XP users if they really want to become Vista power users. While it's not absolutely necessary, it's a good idea to take advantage of MS' excellent and extensive documentation. I picked up Microsoft Windows Vista Inside Out from my local Barnes and Noble. Thanks to it, I was able to easily solve the Permissions issue I mentioned above. The same information can probably be found easily online via the Microsoft Knowledgebase, but if you prefer quick answers to 15 minutes of Google, you can take the route I did.

Microsoft has rightly been severely criticized over the years for being a monolith that's difficult to interact with directly, and unfortunately that's still the case. Still, if you'd like to keep up with where Vista's going and what the dev team is up to, check out the Windows Vista Team Blog.

In this author's opinion, 2 words sum up the Vista file-sharing experience:

All clear.

Unless you rely exclusively on KCeasy/the OpenFT network or religiously use Firefox for uploads, there is nothing to be concerned about. In any case, the problems with those 2 apps appear to be external to the OS itself - i.e. it's not that Vista's blocking them.

Because I never had to upgrade via an installation, I can't comment on exactly how the new OS works in that case. However from the above there's a distinct likelihood that there's a lot less truth and fairness to the nightmare stories floating around out there than their authors would like you to believe.

That's it. Go right ahead.



*EDIT: It has been discovered that this issue is resolved by opening VLC -> Settings -> Preferences -> Video -> uncheck "Overlay Video Output" -> Save


This story is filed in these Slyck News categories
File-Sharing/P2P Related :: Reviews

You can discuss this article here - 29 replies

© 2001-2019 Slyck.com