Mailbag: September 20, 2010

This week in the mailbag:

How Do You Remove Windows XP from Dual-Booting with Windows 7?
Internet Explorer 9 Does Not Load Add-Ons for Pinned Web Sites
64-Bit IE 9 and Pinned Web Sites
Some TechNet Standard License Keys Drop from 10 to 2; Pro Drops from 10 to 5
Good Old Games, R.I.P.
Installing iTunes Without the Bloat

Have a question? I can't guarantee an answer, but I'll try. Drop me a note! (And let me know if you'd prefer not to have your name published.)

Dillon D. asks:

When Windows 7 came out, I installed it as a dual boot with my existing XP. I want to now get rid of the XP boot. Each OS is on its own hard drive. Do you have instructions on your site for doing this? I couldn't find anything.

No, but it's easy enough: You can remove the XP partition/hard drive with Windows 7's built-in disk partitioning tools (Start Menu Search, disk part). Then, you can make the boot menu disappear by accessing System Properties, Advanced system properties, Startup and Recovery - Settings, and changing the menu display time to 0 seconds. But if you want to actually remove XP from the boot menu all together, you'll need a boot menu editor like EasyBCD.

I salute you for deciding to remove XP, by the way. :)

As more and more people have begun using the Internet Explorer 9 Beta, I've started getting a number of emails related to this release. One of the more common involves browser add-ons: It seems that IE 9 does not load add-ons for pinned web sites. So I asked Microsoft for the rationale behind this. Their response is:

In order to keep sites as the focus, IE9 currently disables add-ons in pinned mode to prevent possibly putting users in a broken state. For example, a command bar button may depend on a BHO (browser help object) running, and that BHO might require a toolbar. In order to keep everything functioning in pinned mode, IE9's site-centric approach would have been compromised.

Conversely, accelerators, which are declarative and operate independently from command add-ons, are left on because they don't distract from sites while maintaining their functionality.

Fair enough, but I'm still trying to figure out if this behavior is going to be an issue. I've had some troubles with Last Pass, arguably the most necessary IE add-on ever made, but I'm not sure if that's tied to this new pinned mode or something else. Based on my email, a number of readers have had similar issues.

On a related vein, IE 9 does not include a spell checker and it desperately needs one. I'd used such things as IESpell in the past, but what I really want is something that works on the fly, as does the built-in spell-checking functionality in Chrome. Perhaps IE 7 Pro?


I didn't think anyone was using the 64-bit versions of Internet Explorer, but clearly I'm wrong. I received several emails about the recent IE 9 Beta release and how it works, or doesn't work, with pinned web sites. Jeff P. provides a typical example of this question:

How do you go about enabling jumplists in the 64-bit version of IE9?

I had never thought to test this, but if you pin a web site from the 64-bit version of IE 9, the pinned version of the site runs under the normal 32-bit version of the browser, not the 64-bit version. I'm not clear on why this is so, especially when you consider that IE 9 doesn't load add-ons for pinned sites anyway. (See above; 64-bit versions of IE are generally incompatible with most add-ons.)

The most common email this week, perhaps, was about a sudden and unexpected change in the way that Microsoft's new TechNet Standard subscription works. That is, for most software products--Windows 7, Office 2010, whatever--subscribers received 10 product keys. But this past week, all of a sudden, that dropped to 2. What gives?

This bit came from the Microsoft online support forums and suggested that it was all a mistake:

This is a web site issue. Our TechNet team is working on it. Sorry for the inconvenience. When it is fixed, subscribers can request 10 product keys again.

So that's good news, right? Not so fast. According to a reader who chooses to remain anonymous, Microsoft just sent out the following email:

Hello Subscriber,

Thank you for contacting Microsoft in regard to your TechNet key request.

We wanted to confirm for you that the new limitations on TechNet product keys are a part of a new policy. Microsoft has implemented additional security measures across subscription programs. Consequently, the new policy in place enables access to a maximum number of keys for many products .... Current policy is that subscribers may access a maximum allocation of 2 keys from the download portal for use during the Subscription year to be used during the software evaluation process. Once the maximum allocation is exhausted, there will be no more keys available. Additional keys are not available upon request due to Microsoft?s ongoing commitment to counter-piracy and security. We apologize for any inconvenience this may be causing you.

For your reference, your case number is \{caseid:\[9000######\]\}.

If you have any questions or comments about subscriptions, please feel free to contact me at (800) 344-2121. Our hours of operation are Monday through Friday 5:30 AM to 5:30 PM Pacific Standard Time. Thank you for contacting Microsoft.

TechNet Subscriptions Team
E-mail: Tsubserv@microsoft.com
Phone: (800) 344-2121
Fax: (661) 244-4993

So I called TechNet myself. And what I discovered is that, yes, Microsoft did just change the terms of the TechNet Standard and Pro subscriptions. For the Standard subscription, Microsoft is only providing two product keys for Office 2007, Office 2010, Windows XP, and Windows 7. For Professional, it's five; both were previously ten. However, subscribers can request additional keys via email. And I verified with Microsoft that each product key is still good for ten activations.

The TechNet Standard subscription is still an excellent deal, of course, and I should once again point out that this product is for evaluation purposes only, not so you can inexpensively install Windows 7 on every PC in the neighborhood. But I do understand why existing subscribers are upset that Microsoft quietly changed the terms of the subscription. It was kind of a lousy thing to do.

A number of readers wrote in to tell me that one of my Windows Weekly software picks of the week, Good Old Games, or GOG.com, is dead.

We had to close the service due to business and technical reasons ... At the same time we guarantee that every user who bought any game on GOG.com will be able to download all their games with bonus materials, DRM-free and as many times as they need starting this Thursday.

And the letter from the GOG.com team...

Dear GOG users,

We have recently had to give serious thought to whether we could really keep GOG.com the way it is. We've debated on it for quite some time and, unfortunately, we've decided that GOG.com simply cannot remain in its current form.

We're very grateful for all support we've received from all of you in the past two years. Working on GOG.com was a great adventure for all of us and an unforgettable journey to the past, through the long and wonderful history of PC gaming.

This doesn't mean the idea behind GOG.com is gone forever. We're closing down the service and putting this era behind us as new challenges await.

On a technical note, this week we'll put in place a solution to allow everyone to re-download their games. Stay tuned to this page and follow us on Twitter and Facebook for updates.

All the best,
GOG.com Team

This is a shame. GOG was one of those great services, with great (old) games, with no DRM at all. It was too good to be true, or at least too good to last.

Sam B. pointed me towards an Ed Bott blog post, the unofficial guide to installing iTunes 10 without bloatware, which seeks to unravel Apple's complex iTunes installer so that you can install only what you need:

Nothing has changed in Cupertino. Apple still gives its customers a monolithic iTunes setup program with absolutely no options to pick and choose based on your specific needs.

Why is that important? When you run the iTunes setup program, it unpacks six Windows Installer packages and a master setup program, which then installs nearly 300MB of program and support files, a kernel-mode CD/DVD-burning driver, multiple system services, and a bunch of browser plugins. It configures two ?helper? programs to start automatically every time you start your PC, giving you no easy way to disable them. It installs a network service that many iTunes users don?t need and that has been associated with security and reliability issues.

That?s where this post comes in. It contains detailed, up-to-date instructions for cracking open that gigantic iTunes installer and installing just the pieces you want and need. I?ve also updated my advice for individual scenarios so that you can make intelligent choices instead of simply settling for Apple?s defaults.

So, this is valuable information, of course. It doesn't really solve my central problem with iTunes, however, which is that iTunes itself is a pig and needs to be put down. Which is why I've been exploring alternatives more actively than usual. But Ed's guide is useful, even to those who do you use iTunes everyday. At the very least, learn how to kill those unnecessary boot-time pre-loaders.