Burning Issues With Vista
~ by Richard Rasker
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.
Step 1: Locating a Vista computer
Locating a working Vista box proved harder than I
expected. First I went over to a local computer shop, the owner of
which I know personally, and asked if I might have a go on any Vista
demo box they might have standing around. They said they'd be happy
to oblige, but that they had no Vista computers on offer at all,
because “Vista doesn't work well enough yet.” It turned
out that they'd tested a Vista installation on several machines and
concluded that it wasn't yet something they wanted to sell to their
The exact same thing happened at another computer shop. The
third vendor, a large retail chain, did actually have some
preinstalled Vista machines running but wouldn't let me touch them,
because, they said, then: “We can't sell them as new any more.”
After a week of calling around, I finally located someone with a
preinstalled Vista box that I could try out -- he wasn't using it, as
it turned out that the owner (an experienced
Windows XP user) couldn't get the hang of Vista at all and
considered buying the machine “a mistake”. Not a good
So I had the machine all to myself: a dual-core 2.8GHz Pentium D
with one GB of RAM, and an NVIDIA GeForce 7300 SE featuring 128MB
graphics RAM, preloaded with Vista Home Premium. This is a vastly
more powerful machine than any of my Linux boxes (which run smoothly
and snappily nonetheless), yet it seemed to me to be underpowered to run all the
Vista eye-candy, in particular the 3D effects. Ah well.
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. And I can't really see the “Wow” factor
either. In fact, I find the transparency effects both ugly and
annoying. Especially window title bars are no longer well-defined,
and appear to be infected with some sort of mold. But OK, there's no
accounting for taste, and no doubt it can be switched off --
and I'm actually thankful for the absence of any 3D “special
effects”, which I find even more distracting and annoying. An
OS and user interface should behave like the perfect butler: make
your life as easy as possible while remaining as
unobtrusive as possible. Vista behaves more like a very stupid
servant in a flashy outfit. It makes its presence felt throughout,
raises the alarm every so often without any real need, gets confused
easily, drops the dishes on a regular basis, and while appearing to be
easygoing and helpful, drives its employer insane with its
unpredictable whims and intrusive behavior. (Note that this is my
personal opinion, based on my own, rather limited experience with
Then there's the main menu button, formerly the Start button, in
the lower left corner. As the contradiction of clicking a button
labeled “Start” in order to shut down Windows seemed to
confuse users and was often ridiculed, Microsoft replaced it with a
neutral button featuring the Vista logo. But guess which Tool Tip
appears when hovering the mouse over this button. Yup: “Start”.
Quite funny, actually, although I very much doubt that this was the
result of a healthy sense of humor on the part of the interface
Next up: how to take screen shots. Now in Mandriva, it's simply a
matter of pressing the Prt Scr key, after which KSnapshot, an
application for taking, naming and saving screen shots, automatically
pops up. It even features automatic image file numbering, to make
taking several successive screen shots easier. Not so in Vista. After
pressing Prt Scr, or any combination of this key with any other key,
nothing seems to happen. How, then, to take a Windows screenshot?
to give the new and much praised Search function a whirl. But no
matter what I enter in the text box, nothing relevant is found, even when I
select Search All. Apparently, help information isn't included in the
search process. And pressing the good old F1 button for Help doesn't
do anything either. A few more minutes of searching with Google
finally turns up an answer: it is the Prt Scr key after all,
but the image is saved in the Clipboard, to be pasted into Paint or
another suitable application. Not very handy, in my opinion, but then
again, I never liked the Windows Way. So I open Paint, and Ctrl+V the
images in there, and save them manually. A bit of a drag, but nothing
serious. Later, I found out that I also had to crop the images
manually, because Paint didn't resize the saved image automatically
to the pasted image size. My mistake.
And 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.
Steps 2 and 3: Transfer USB files to CD, and try to burn a CD
So, back to the burning issue. I plug in my USB stick and have
Vista open an Explorer window with its contents. Then I click the
“Computer” icon on the desktop and drag a file from USB
stick to the burner icon. Right away, a window pops up, prompting me
to load a CD or DVD in the burner (note that the images are all in Dutch, my language, but I'll translate for English speakers):
1: Vista asks for a writable disk (“Put a writable disk in the
That I do, after which a terse burn dialog turns up:
2: Vista's burn dialog is very concise (“Prepare this blank
This seems simple enough. Now if I had clicked Next (“Volgende”),
the CD would have been burned with Microsoft's Live File System
format without informing or warning the user. This is Not Good, in my view, and
smells a bit of sneaky lock-in. Instead, then, I click Show Formatting Options
(“Opties voor formatteren weergeven”).
3: Vista's burn tool formatting options
The options are clear: the Mastered format is readable on any
computer, the Live File System format only on Windows computers -- and
even then, it depends on the chosen version (via “Versie
wijzigen”) of Live File System, as the following screen shots
4: Live File System version selection -- or UDF version selection?
(“Annuleren” = “Cancel”)
All of a sudden, Live File System is called UDF, which is rather
confusing. Is the resulting disk a UDF disk or not? Anyway, I stick
with the default option (UDF 2.01), which should be compatible with
Vista and XP. After I click OK, Vista says it needs to format the
5: Vista is formatting the disk, calculating the remaining time --
forever, as it turned out
And this is the moment where mere annoyance turns into
frustration, as nothing seems to be happening. After waiting for over
five minutes, I decide to try and cancel the whole operation, but
that's not so easy. There's no way to close the Formatting window, as
the Close button, Alt+F4 and other Close options are greyed out.
After a bit of searching I locate the Task Manager and forcibly kill
the task. But the associated window won't go away, no matter what I
6: Vista's burn tool crashed and burned -- or rather crashed and failed
It seems that the only way to get rid of this non-responding
“zombie window” is a complete reboot. Yes, indeed,
another five minutes down the drain.
Giving up is not an option. So I reboot and try once more. Weird
enough, this time when dragging the file from the USB stick to the
burner icon and popping in a blank CD at Vista's request, a new
dialog comes up:
7: Yet another burn dialog?
If I thought things were confusing already, with the mysterious
Live File System available in no less than four versions called UDF,
this really takes the biscuit. And to top it all, this dialog's title
bar says “Automatic Playing”, while offering a
large amount of burning applications (most of which were
installed by the user). Why? The only real difference is that the first
time, I used a CD-RW, and now I just put in an ordinary, blank CD-R.
I close this window and continue with the now familiar Vista burn
dialog (which has popped up as well). Again, I don't choose anything
at all, in effect “choosing” Live File System. Again, the
formatting dialog shows up, but this time, it doesn't hang -- it
produces an error message: “Can't complete formatting.” Nothing else, no
reason, no help, just nothing. No error details whatsoever.
8: Formatting a blank CD failed - again: “Can't Finish
Fed up with this, I decide to ask the owner of the machine for
help. He says that I could try to turn off some security options,
which should also stop the endless stream of System Tray popup
warnings. He can't tell me how to do this, though. I told him I was
logged in with admin rights already, but he says that's not enough.
After another fifteen minutes of rummaging around in the Control
Center and checking out literally everything under “Security”,
I finally find what I'm looking for -- buried deep somewhere under
“User Accounts”. I turn off User Access Control (UAC),
and now Vista says it must reboot for this to take effect! And I
thought Vista needed far less reboots? This is already the second
reboot in less than an hour, without any result yet.
OK, so reboot it is ... and this time, the formatting of the CD-R
seems to work -- although it takes over two minutes. Burning starts
.... and then ends in failure once again ...
9: Now the burning process failed ...
And again, the error message (well, error wizard, actually) is the
stupidest you can get: “A problem has occurred while burning
this disk. The disk may no longer be usable.” No further
explanation whatsoever, no help. It “just failed”. OK,
the user is offered three options: “Try again with another disk”,
“Remove temporary files which weren't burned to disk”,
and “Save temporary files and try to burn these at a later
time”. Try, try, try. As it turns out, no matter what I choose, it keeps failing.
And now I'm getting System Tray popups again -- this time it's
warnings that the machine is not properly secured. Wonderful.
I'm about to give up, but I decide to give it one more shot, this
time with the Mastered format. For good measure, I reboot the machine
once more, put in a new, blank CD-R, and go through the whole
procedure again, taking care to choose the Mastered format this time:
10: Burning with the Mastered format option
A large window appears, to which I can drag and drop files. So in
goes the file again, and I click “Burn to disk”. Now
the burner actually shows some activity, but after a while, the
previous error message pops up again. Checking the disk visually
shows that something was burned but only the Vista machine
seems to be able to read these files. Even an XP machine shows
nothing at all. Also, I can't find any way of specifying this
Mastered format as the default format -- which was one of the main
reasons to embark on this burning adventure.
I try once more with yet another blank
disk; but surprise surprise, when I click the burner icon, Vista says
that the file I burned is on the disk already! And when I try to
force Vista to burn the disk nonetheless, it keeps insisting that the
files are there already ...
11: Vista says that files have been burned -- with a blank disk in the
The above dialog says that “Files
have been written to the disk”, and “Would you like to
copy the same files to another disk?” Well, nothing readable
was burned to any disk in the first place, and choosing to burn the
same files to another disk doesn't work either.
12: This is so confusing ...
When I drag-and-drop the file onto the burner again (with a blank
CD-R in the tray), I get a warning that “This location already
contains a file by this name”. No it doesn't! I just put in a
blank disk! And again, regardless whether I choose “Copy and
replace”, “Don't copy” or “Copy, but keep
both files”, nothing readable ends up on the CD.
As a final test, I close all dialogs, and start the burn utility
one more time. And as expected, it hadn't saved any previous
settings and offered to burn the CD with Live File System once more.
And failed once more. This was the point at which I finally gave up,
after more than two hours of frustration and confusion and returned
the box to its owner.
And there was nothing wrong with the burner device itself --
Nero had no problems burning files to CD.
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 ...
If at first you don't succeed...
The very next day, I received an email message from the owner (er, correction:
licensee). He had already resigned himself to upgrading (sic) the box
to XP, but he powered it up one more time. To his surprise, a message
appeared saying that “There were files in a burn queue”, and
would he like to have these burned to CD? So he chose “Yes”,
dropped a blank CD in the burner tray, and to his amazement, Vista
burned the CD without a hitch. If he was surprised, I was speechless.
I went over to his place, and sure enough, the machine now does what
it's supposed to do.
So once more, I'll try and find out all about Vista's burn tool.
And so here I am again, with the machine purring away.
Taking a systematic approach, I first check to see what happens
when I load a blank DVD-RW in the burner tray as a first course of
action. And incredible as it may seem, yet another burn
selection dialog pops up!
13: And here's the third burn dialog.
It resembles the one from Figure 7, but with all the options for
the user installed burn software magically absent. The only
difference here is that I put in a DVD instead of a CD. Ah well, so
much for consistency. And where's Vista's familiar, austere burn
dialog from Figure 2 or 3? The one that never failed to pop up so
far? OK, I remain calm, and select the second option (“Burn
files to disk -- with Windows”). Ah, there it is --
and it's the one in Figure 2, with the formatting options hidden;
when clicking the latter, the format is set to Live File System. So
just clicking Next would have resulted in a Live File System disk,
incompatible with anything but Windows Vista and Windows XP. One mark
on the lock-in side of the tally.
I change the format to “Mastered”, and the dialog from
figure 10 appears. I drag-and-drop some files in there, and right
away, a System Tray popup appears, informing me that “there are
files in the disk queue”. Yeah, I know. It was me who put 'em
there not a second ago. And I can “Click this balloon to
display the files”. Talking about useless messages ...
14: Vista has noticed that I put files in a burning queue, and tells
me about it
Undaunted, I proceed to click “Burn to disk” (“Op
schijf branden”). A dialog appears, with options to change the
name and the burning speed. OK, fine.
15: The disk is prepared
(Note that the word “Mastered”
is the name I gave the disk.) After clicking Next and expecting the
actual burning to begin, Vista comes up with a warning dialog (and
accompanied by a sound, at that):
16: Vista apparently tries to dissuade users from using the Mastered
This is what it says: “If you use the Mastered format, you
can only write once on this type of disk. If you wish to add files to
this disk more often, you should use the Live File System format. Do
you wish to continue to use the Mastered format?” Yes, of
course I do! That's why I selected it in the first place. Also note
how cunningly the No (“Nee”) option is selected by
default, causing a switch to LFS when the user presses the Enter key
without thinking. This appears to me to be another attempt to steer users
away from a universally readable format. Add one mark for lock-in.
After clicking Yes, the disk is finally burned, and yes, it's
readable in my Linux machines. After the burning finishes, Vista
offers to burn the files to another disk, with the dialog from Figure
11. I decide to see what happens when I accept, and drop in yet
another blank DVD-RW. And yes, once again, the warning message of
Figure 16 pops up. Vista (or rather: Microsoft) really doesn't want
you to use a universally compatible format, I don't think. I confirm the Mastered
option once again, and let the burning tool run its course. This
time, the burn tool crashes once more:
17: An all too familiar sight by now: “... doesn't respond”
Nope, the Cancel button (“Annuleren”)
doesn't work. When I click the close button, I get a message that
“Windows Explorer does not respond” (Huh? Windows
Explorer? So that is the burn tool?):
18: Yeah, I know it doesn't respond. Do something about
Ah well, let's simply kill it, then ...
that should be the easiest option by far. But alas, choosing the
second option “Terminate the program” results in another,
yet almost identically phrased error message:
19: Grrrrrrrr ...
Again, “Windows Explorer doesn't
respond” -- But this time, “More information is being gathered
about the problem. This may take several minutes”. So I wait.
After a dozen more seconds, and without a warning, all of the desktop
goes blank! I can't do anything any more. No, not even take a
screenshot, so you have to take me at my word this time ...
After waiting for a dozen or so minutes and contemplating a hard
reset, I try
pressing the DVD burner button. Out comes the DVD -- and lo and
behold, the desktop pops up again! With the same System Tray message
as in Figure 14, “There are files in the disk queue”. How
thoughtful. Bizarre but thoughtful.
So I take a deep breath, and proceed to
put a blank DVD-RW in the burner once again. For good measure, I
click the DVD burner icon (the F: drive) in “Computer”,
to check whether it's blank indeed. To my utter surprise, Vista once
again tells me that there is a file on the disk nonetheless:
20: Vista's F: drive shows what isn't there
But wait a minute ... now I see ... this line at the top, “Files
ready to be written to disk”, is the only clue. So this is
what happens: Clicking the F: drive icon doesn't necessarily show the
contents of the disk -- it may instead show the contents
of Vista's burn queue. Congratulations, Microsoft! By overly dumbing
down the user interface and trying to predict what the user might
want to do (i.e., burn stuff to a disk), no doubt to “make
things easier”, you actually created a major point of
confusion. Let me tell you: clicking a drive icon should always
tell you the contents of this drive, nothing else, and most certainly
not what you may wish to write to that drive or not.
Ah well, after putting in the blank DVD, at least I now get the
fully expanded burn dialog from way back in Figure 3. No, not the
one from Figure 7, not the one from Figure 13, and not the one from
Figure 10. And, surprisingly, the Mastered format option is
preselected this time round. Who knows, perhaps the tool has a
memory after all, and stores its latest settings ...
But alas, as soon as I empty the burn
queue and start the whole procedure again, up comes the terse dialog
from Figure 2, and a quick check confirms that, yes, the Live File
System is selected by default once again.
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
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
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. So far, I haven't been able to find any technical
specifications with regard to LFS; and it is to be expected that
Microsoft will consider it their Intellectual Property, the use and
support of which is licensed under its terms to users. I think this is Not Good at all.
And as for the general quality of Vista and my personal
“Vista experience”? I think the story speaks for itself.
* * *
Postscript: After reading some feedback to the article, I fired up the Vista box once more, testing some things posted. What I find is that the two oldest UDF versions (1.50 and 2.00) indeed can
be read by Linux -- but only if udftools are installed on the Linux
system, which isn't the case by default. This option also suffers from a similar problem as the Mastered format,
i.e., it can't be set as the default choice and must thus be selected
consciously every single time.
Burning Issues in Vista -- the Aftermath
In the article, I attempted to find out more about the way
Vista burns CD's and DVD's, and in particular about the format Vista
uses by default, something which Microsoft calls Live File System, or
LFS in short. From what I gathered on the Internet and experienced
hands-on with a Vista machine, I drew the conclusion that LFS was
likely a deliberate attempt by Microsoft to lock users into a new,
proprietary format for storing data on CD's and DVD's. Well, as the
reactions from lots of Groklaw readers started pouring in, it became
clear that LFS wasn't a new, proprietary format after all.
Rather quickly, evidence mounted that Live File System isn't (as I
thought) just based on a ISO standard called Universal Disk
Format, (UDF), but that LFS is UDF. So how did I get the idea
that LFS was a new, incompatible Microsoft format? Well, Microsoft
itself is partly to blame. In its own
The latest version of Windows
offers a new format, called Live File System.
Discs formatted with the Live
File System option:
... Are only compatible with Windows
XP and later versions of Windows.
Nowhere does Microsoft say that Live File System is actually the
same as UDF, which I find rather misleading – if you use a
well-defined and open standard, why not call it by its proper name?
Add to this the facts that a) Vista clearly steers users away from
the universally readable “Mastered format”, both by means
of default settings that can't be changed and a warning message, and
b) the resulting LFS disks initially couldn't be read on my Linux
systems at all, and c) it would by no means be the first time for
Microsoft to convert an open standard into their own incompatible
one, and a foul play theory is quickly born.
But if LFS is in fact UDF, why couldn't my Linux boxes read the
disks? Well, this was due to sloppiness on my part, a lack of
proper UDF support in Linux, and my hardware setup.
Initially, I tried all four LFS/UDF versions, but couldn't read
anything, although Linux was said to offer UDF support. Some time
later, I gave it another try – but this time only with the 2.01
version, with the same negative result. As reactions on my article
came in, it became clear that at least the two oldest UDF versions
(1.50 and 2.00) could be read on Linux after all – which
resulted in a bit of an “ahum” feeling, let me tell you.
One of Groklaw's readers pointed me to a Linux
kernel patch for improved UDF support, and also provided the
following general information on UDF support in Linux:
Linux 2.6.X supports the following UDF
- Read & Write: 1.02, 1.50, 2.0x
(Kernel 2.6.10 up),
- Read Only: 2.50 (with patch)
Windows Vista supports the following
- Read & Write: 1.02, 1.50,
- Read Only: 2.60
Still, this doesn't explain why I had trouble reading UDF disks
formatted with the older (older than 2.50) versions, but that turned out to be a hardware issue. My
(older) CD-ROM players seemed to be incompatible with UDF, most probably
because they didn't support the 2048 bytes per sector UDF uses. When I
put the UDF formatted CD-RW's in my DVD burner, they could be read
properly (with the exception of version 2.50).
The problem with the kernel patch, of course, is that it requires
quite a bit of hands-on work in the department of kernel-compiling
and the like, so the average user may have to wait a little longer
for a simple kernel update for his or her distribution of choice.
this lagging UDF support in Linux a bit surprising, especially as it
seems that UDF 2.50 has been around for four years. Apparently, there
wasn't any reason to support it because it was very rarely used. But
with the arrival of Vista, and also new DVD formats, this will no
- Microsoft's Live File System is in fact Universal Disk
- Linux does support the older versions of Universal Disk
Format, but may require a kernel patch to support Vista's currently
- “Out-of-the box” Linux support of the latest UDF
version (2.50) is not yet realized.
- Not all CD-ROM players are capable of handling UDF disks.
* Let's hope that Microsoft doesn't get any weird ideas and
decide to “extend” its Live File System beyond the UDF
specification after all ...
So in this case, it's actually Linux that's lagging in
development; Microsoft isn't really to blame, at least as far as
lock-in is concerned – although more accurate information on
the nature of “Live File System” could have prevented
quite a bit of trouble and confusion. Also, it depends on the CD or
DVD device whether a UDF formatted disk can be used or not.
Especially older CD-ROM players may not be UDF-compatible.
I hope this information is useful for others as well, and I would
like to thank Groklaw's readership for their feedback, which was a
valuable help to get a clearer picture.
Richard Rasker runs a translation agency in the Netherlands, specializing in