Windows 7 RC1

So I finally downloaded and installed the release candidate of Windows 7 Ultimate.  (Gizmodo has a bunch of resources on how to get it and make it work for you.)

Anyway, after a couple of hours of playing with it, these are my initial impressions:

1.  It was nice to be able to dual-boot Windows 7, rather than have it replace my Vista install altogether, a decision I am very glad I made, which I’ll get to in a moment.

2.  The included wallpapers are quite nice, especially the infamous “trippy” ones.  And the ability to have the desktop images rotate in a slideshow is something that I have always wanted to have implemented.  Still not included, however, is the ability to have different desktop images on each of your monitors.  This is something, by the way, that is possible when using DisplayFusion, which is a very nice piece of software.

3.  I’m not used to the new taskbar, but I’m sure I’ll get there eventually.

4.  For the moment, my internet connection is through a Netgear WG111v3 USB adapter, which didn’t work quite right even after installing the latest drivers from CD-ROM.  (I like how Netgear offered to let me download the latest ones rather than install off the CD-ROM, but isn’t that rather difficult if the adapter is your only method of connecting?)  But there is a nifty little up-arrow icon on the bottom right hand of the screen, that lets you take a look at all your connected devices.  Windows 7 recognized that the adapter wasn’t working correctly, and right-clicking on the icon gave me the option of having Windows figure it out.  Which it did.  No problem.  Definitely +1 on that.  

5.  Netflix doesn’t recognize Windows 7 as a valid operating system, and as such, you can’t stream movies.  Massive fail on Netflix’s part, if you ask me, because I suspect that it’s probably just a bit of code that says, essentially (and it’ll become quite apparent that I’m not a programmer here), “IF NOT Windows Vista; Windows XP; or OS X –>THEN FAIL.”  There is no reason, from everything I’ve read about Windows 7, that would make it incompatible with Netflix, because the guts of 7 are apparently the same guts as Vista, just tweaked to be more efficient.  I checked online for some solutions, but if there’s a solution that makes sense to me, I don’t see it.  One thing I thought about before falling asleep last night, however, is making use of the virtual XP environment to try Netflix that way.  Probably won’t work, though, as it seems that is the weakest feature of the whole bunch.

6.  Watching video on Hulu seemed to be slightly choppier than I had experienced through Vista.  There’s no real way to quantify this, it just seemed just a tidge more jittery.

7.  And, finally, somehow I have sound in Windows 7 but not in Windows Vista anymore.  (I use the HDMI-out from my computer’s nVidia card to provide video and sound to one of my monitors.)  Usually, a reboot solves the problem when the sound isn’t working right in Vista, but not for right now.  When I have more time, I’ll play with it some.

All in all, it isn’t the life-changing experience I expected, given the fawning reaction of the geeklords on the internets.  It’s nice, sure, but as I’m not terribly displeased with Vista, it’s not that big a deal to me.  Maybe after a little more playing, my song will change.

What I do find compelling is what Microsoft is doing here.  Vista is not a bad OS, but its reputation was slaughtered by the press.  (Okay, okay, there were a lot of problems at launch, but those problems have largely been rectified.)  Microsoft could have just let things stand and added improvements to Vista incrementally, as it did with XP, and left well enough alone.  But facing pressures from Apple and even Linux (to a small extent, and mostly in the Netbook arena) it didn’t do that.  Instead it announced a new OS, and let everyone in the world, pretty much, play with it.  It’s like Christmas in May.  Those who play with it seem to like it an awful lot, and will likely be willing to shell out whatever upgrade fees will apply to update their machines by the time the release candidate finally dies in June of 2010.  (Actually, beginning in March, the machines running the release candidate will begin to shut down every two hours, which is going to drive people nuts.)  

My only concern, and it is the concern that I think will determine whether Microsoft has really “changed,” is that we’re playing with the Ultimate edition, and it’s already been announced that the virtual XP mode won’t be available in the Home Premium flavor.  What else will be stripped?  Hopefully not the rotating desktops and sound themes.  But we’ll see.

Battle Royale–Part the Second

When trying to discern the differences between the many computing system choices out there, it becomes clear very quickly that this is no easy task. For one thing, there are questions of what sort of form factor makes sense (i.e., netbook vs. laptop vs. desktop), what sort of power you need, and what it is that you’re going to be doing with your machine. Additionally, it can be maddening trying to distinguish the operating system from the many add-ons available and that come prepackaged with a machine bought at retail.

So I’ve decided that the best way for me to get a grip on everything, I will start with a comparison of what you would get if you obtained only the operating system. In other words, what would you get if you went to a store and purchased, say Windows Vista Home Premium, or OS X, or downloaded a Linux distro. What, in other words, is built in if you had only that installed on your machine and nothing else. It isn’t necessarily the most logical place to start. After all, if you don’t have Apple hardware, you can’t install OSX legally. And it is unclear to me that many people buy Vista at retail. (And to top it all off, Vista is a dead brand, soon to supplanted by Windows 7 and all of its many flavors.)

The reason I’m starting here, however, is because I want to get at the heart of what you get with the operating system, and what the value of the software is from that approach.

I think it’s important to look at what you get from the following categories: internet capability (i.e., built-in browser(s)); general productivity applications (i.e., word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, non-web-based email, et cetera); data backup; entertainment (i.e., media playback and games); photo management (i.e., ability to display, manage, and edit digital photos); and content creation (i.e., ability to create music and/or movies). Additionally, I have looked at miscellaneous goodies that are built-in, that aren’t necessarily things that are deal-breakers, but nonetheless may factor into a decision.

Read more “Battle Royale–Part the Second”

Battle Royale, Part the First

I just wrapped up a response to the USPTO on a trademark registration I’m working on, and to celebrate, I thought I’d do a little thought experiment.  I’ve noticed how Microsoft’s latest ads are getting the Apple-ites all riled up, which is funny in itself.

If you haven’t been paying attention, Microsoft has been running “Laptop Hunters” ads (where are Grant and Jason?) which show that laptops running Windows are cheaper than Apple’s laptops.  First, there was Laurena, and then the Giampaolo guy, and most recently, an 11-year-old kid with his mother (Lisa and Jackson).  (Am I the only one who thinks of Amy Sedaris when I look at her?)

To counter the obvious differential in up-front cost, Apple fans like to say something to the effect of “Look what you get built in with OSX, though!  To get your crappy Windows machine up to speed with my beautiful Mac, you need to spend more money, and then your cost savings are non-existent!  So, nyah!”

It’s not a bad argument to make.  After all, people buying cars are urged to take “total cost of ownership” into account when making purchasing decisions.  (Edmunds.com has a nice little tool called “True Cost to Own”, for example.)  After all, that $15,590 Mazda3 may cost less up front than this $16,260 Honda Fit, but after all is said and done, over five years, you come out just about even.   (See also, the Total Quality Index issued by Strategic Vision.)

So Apple has a point.  Maybe OSX comes bundled with so many goodies that the price differential disappears.  Of course, there’s one very noisy contingent that gets ignored in all these comparisons: all the various flavors of Linux distros: Ubuntu, Fedora, Mandriva, Linux Mint, OpenSuse, et cetera et cetera.  There are hundreds of variants, and almost none of them cost one penny.  What’s more, the software that works in that environment also costs nothing.  With Linux, generally speaking, your hardware is your only cost of ownership; it’s almost as if you bought a car, and your gas and repair bills were covered.

So this got me thinking about the economy and small business owners, about the true cost of getting a computer (or computers) for the workplace, and about what really makes the most sense.  Is it the general familiarity of Windows, warts and all?  Or is it the cool insouciance of OSX?  Or maybe it’s a nice solid Linux distro.  Over the next few weeks, I’ll be taking time here and there to look into this question, and at the end of the process, I hope to have come up with some sort of answer.

A few obligatory qualifications:  I currently run Windows Vista, generally like it, and haven’t had any problems with it whatsoever.  I also have family members who swear by OSX, and also have played around with it extensively since the time Jobs was there before he wandered in the wilderness for a few years.  And I have played with Linux on a once-awesome, now-sluggish laptop, didn’t especially like the experience, but will pick up the mantle once again.  So I really don’t have a dog in the fight.

And with that, this post ends.  My next post will be on the difficulties of establishing a baseline for comparing the many options available to consumers.

Apple Not A Monopoly (For Now)

Hmmm…  Well, I can’t say I’m that surprised, but U.S. District Judge William Alsup has rejected Psystar’s claim that Apple is a monopolist.  (Psystar markets the OpenMac, which runs OSX on non-Apple hardware, which violates the OSX license, and thus led to them being sued for copyright infringement.) According to CNN Money, Judge “Alsup ruled Apple’s products don’t constitute a market to dominate. As a consequence, Apple then can’t be considered a monopolist.”

The problem, of course, is market definition.  And it’s not as easy as simply telling the court that the relevant market is computers running OSX, because Apple will turn around and try to convince the court that the relevant market is actually all computers, whether they run OSX, Linux, Windows, FreeBSD, or Solaris.  Clearly, then, with Apple’s miniscule (though growing) market-share amongst all computers, well, it can’t exert monopoly power when the market is defined as all computers.  And that, it appears (I haven’t looked at the order), is what has happened.

Anyway, ars technica has a little write-up, and they have thoughtfully provided the case number: 3:08-cv-03251-WHA  (N.D. Cal.)

(Justia, too, has the case number, and an as-yet non-updated reproduction of the PACER docket sheet.)

More Adventures in Linux

After playing with 64-bit Fedora 9, I began to feel a little like the pop idols on Iron Chef, with the horrible dubbing: “Um, tee-hee, I don’t think I’m hardcore enough for this distro!”  There wasn’t anything really wrong with it, I suppose, other than sludgy response, Flash 10 not working, the scroll wheel being excrutiatingly slow, always having to drop to the terminal to do things…  That’s not really a knock on Fedora 9.  It’s a beautiful program, but probably my 2+ year old lappy isn’t suited to playing around with that particular flavor of Linux; not when it’s essential that I use my external monitor.  (Not to mention the fact that I am not a seasoned pro at this…) I generally liked the Gnome environment better than KDE, especially the way the desktop effects worked–it’s truly slick.  (And I have since learned that Fedora probably did the best job of recognizing and dealing with the meager video card that I have.  I’ve also learned that the stunningly slow internet browsing I was experiencing was due to IPv6.  I found some code that would disable it, but someone else pointed out that all you really need to do is type “about:config” in Firefox’s address bar, search for IPv6, and toggle the selection: Presto!  (That’s one thing I truly love about the Linux community: whatever problem you’re having, someone’s had it, too, and the fix is findable.))

Anyway, since I had a lot of issues that mitigated against having a pleasurable experience with Fedora, it was time to write it off and try something new.  Why not try Ubuntu, I thought?  Cool, I said, that will be fun; but let’s not play with Ubuntu, let’s play with Kubuntu, because everyone seems to like KDE better than Gnome, and besides, there are widgets right out of the “box”!  So, I downloaded Kubuntu 8.10, ran it as a Live CD, and generally found it to be quite nifty.  Hella faster, that was for sure, even off the Live CD.  So, I clicked “Install,” and hesitated at the partition screen.  I didn’t want to let it just use the entire hard drive, because, for now, I need to keep my XP system; having something reliable is essential.  And not fully understanding, at the time what all the partitions were doing, and not understanding why it kept telling me to make the existing Linux partitions into something that I didn’t have an option to do, I hit the web and searched for what most people thought was the easiest distro for dual-booting with XP.  Ubuntu and Kubuntu came up a lot, but so did OpenSUSE 11.

I took a look at what OpenSUSE had to offer, and I liked what I saw.  Yeah, it’s a Novell product, and Novell plays with Microsoft, and that sorta diminishes the whole ethos, but at the same time, playing with Microsoft suggested (and was sorta confirmed by reviews online) that dual-booting would be quite easy.  And besides, the KDE screens looked really nice.  (‘Course, they all do, pretty much, don’t they?)  So I grabbed it, burned the Live KDE distro, and went to work.  It loaded up quite quickly, about as fast as Kubuntu.  And it seemed great.  Now, at that point, I was more than used to my screen’s resolution not being recognized; for whatever reason, using an external monitor with a laptop really confuses the hell out of these distros.  However, I wasn’t expecting OpenSUSE to not give me any option higher than 1280×1024.  I don’t have ANY monitor that has that resolution; my laptop is 1280×800 and my external is 1680×1050.  So, whatever, it looked terrible.  But, given that there must be a way to fix this after the install, I went forward with it.  And installing truly was simple.  When it gets to the partitioning point, OpenSUSE said, in effect, “I recommend you keep your Windows partition, and let me write over that Fedora install you have there, and use the partition you created when you first started tilting at these windmills.”  And since that was precisely what I wanted to have happen, I was more than happy to say “By all means, my good distro.”  Installation was painless, and it loaded very quickly.  Resolution, of course, was terrible, and the standard method of changing resolution, using the System Configurations tool, still limited me to 1280×1024. So I went searching for help on the ‘net (disabling IPv6 first, of course).  Someone recommended to someone else to try using Sax2, and indeed, it gave me lots more resolution options.  But damed if they worked.  Simply put, everything got fouled up, and OpenSUSE became entirely unusable.  So, onto a different distro.

Since I already had Kubuntu 8.10 on Live CD, I installed it.  Everything worked great until I went to change my monitor’s resolution.  And the damn thing just locked up completely.  Couldn’t get anything to work.  Rebooting just rebooted into a locked screen.  Trying failsafe mode did nothing, because of some such error or something.  Whatever.  My patience was wearing thin.  But I’m also determined to see if a law firm can really make use of Linux and open source software.  So I did another search on distros that people seem to like, and Mandriva is tops on the lists.  I chose the Gnome option for 2009.0, because people have been complaining about KDE 4, and I tend to agree with the general tone.  Also, I discovered that the environment doesn’t feel quite as cohesive as Gnome.  Yes, there are really cool translucent effects on things, but then there are old-school classic-Windows looking touches.  Just made me feel like I might as well go with Gnome which makes me think of OS9.  Not that I like OS9, but at least the environment feels unified.  Also, if you don’t choose the Free option, you’ve got built-in Flash and supposedly better support for video drivers.  I can attest to the former, but the latter was terrible.  Install was fine, but, again, trying to make the resolution make sense was a lesson in anger management.  And to top it off, while the hardware configuration tool recognized exactly what video card I had, the driver it wanted to install turned out not to be a driver that was appropriate, which I discovered too late.  So, the result was a desktop that looked nice, but missing menus, and when I did just happen to glance upon one, the text was about 700x bigger that it was supposed to be, and there was no way to see what was going on; things were so screwed up that–when I thought that maybe I’d just reinstall from the Live disc–the Live environment acted precisely the same way.  Not fun.

So, fine, Ubuntu.  Everyone says it’s the most newbie-friendly distro.  And I had this partitioning thing down pat at this point.  And I hadn’t tried Gnome via Ubuntu, so…. maybe?  Yup.  Installed like a charm, allowed me to have 1680×1050 on external, notified me of updates, and they installed smoothly, hasn’t crashed yet, Flash installed nicely, and I’m currently using Firefox on Ubuntu 8.10 to do this blog post.  Now, it’s not like I have dual monitors; lappy’s screen doesn’t look right, but the main concern is the external monitor and that’s working at least.  I think the color leaves a lot to be desired, but that’s fixable.  I also need to reboot, so I’m not sure if all this will have to be retracted in ten minutes.  Also, it won’t let me run any nifty desktop effects, but maybe that’s for the better.  Clearly my computer’s not up to it.

I’m a little annoyed at the constant asking me for my password any time I want to install something or change a setting.  Isn’t that something that Microsoft and Apple get made fun of all the time for?  But I understand there’s a good reason for it.  Anyway, though, Ubuntu is working, and stands a very good chance of existing on my system in the morning.  And I think that for my needs, 64-bit truly isn’t the way to go right now.  But it truly feels like something a law firm could actually use for its computing, and that was the main goal of this exercise, anyway.  We’ll see.  It’s only been up and running for a couple of hours…

Is it 100% Perfect?

No.  But, after spending all day trying to get Fedora installed on my laptop, I’m happy to report that it’s 95% awesome.  And it’s hella faster than running off a live CD.  Right now, I’m running Fedora 9, installed on my laptop, in its own partition, and it’s FAST.  I chose the 64-bit install, which I’ve read perhaps doesn’t really do that much for me.  But I bought this laptop a couple of years ago because it had a 64-bit processor, and dammit, I’m going to do something with it! Anyway, likely due to the fact that there’s hardly anything installed, from power on to login, it’s probably, what, 90 seconds or so?  Maybe less?  That’s a far sight better than my bloated XP installed.  Even after I uninstalled all the bloat I could.  Anyway, what a nice experience.

Are there problems?  Yes.  Screen resolution continues to be an issue.  I get 1600×1050 on my external monitor, but I also get the same thing on my 1280×800 laptop screen, which obviously isn’t cool.  If I try to turn off my lappy’s monitor, the external monitor actually shuts off.  Also, Fedora thinks my external is only 19″, when it’s 20″, and it’s not like size matters, but… And I haven’t tried to deal with my external devices, like my printer, my external HD, my external DVD burner, or my webcam…

Cool things tonight, though: sound’s there; wireless mouse and keyboard work flawlessly (haven’t tried multimedia capability yet) (even scroll wheel works pretty well); bootup is super fast; GUI is already way slicker than XP; Firefox works no problem; satisfaction of knowing that I am doing something on a non-MS rig is waaaaayyyy high.  But, as I’ve spent pretty much the entire day doing this, and it’s almost midnight, I’m calling it quits for the night, and will continue to play with it tomorrow.  I’m looking forward to seeing if I can get OpenOffice 3.0 installed and then duplicate my table of authorities “hack” using Linux, and moving one step closer to being an open source office.

Using Linux This Evening…

Those who already use Linux are probably rolling their eyes this evening, but I think what I have done this evening is really quite impressive.  I downloaded a Live distro of Fedora, and after making about 4 coasters, I finally found out that buring the ISO directly to the CD doesn’t help–I had to find a program that would write the image to the CD.  Go figger.  Anyway, after I figured that out, I was able to boot from the CD-Rom.  And I’m just astonished that I am able to run what is apparently a 64-bit OS off a CD-Rom.  On my laptop.  Which isn’t super current.

The experience is a little sludgy, but I’m really surprised things work as well as they do; my wireless keyboard and mouse are fine, and my external monitor works just fine as well, though switching screen modes on the laptop doesn’t seem to be working too well–I have high resolution on the external monitor, but the laptop screen stays on and looks pretty terrible.  But, I’m sure there must be a way to fix that somewhere.

Anyway, the thing comes with Firefox, which works just fine, and so far everything renders just fine, if a little different.  And like I said, things are a little slow to load, but that’s probably because I’m running off the CD-Rom.

Pretty cool.

The Redmond Underdogs?

Well, I guess it’s happened.  The conventional wisdom in the OS world appears to be that Apple has truly won the OS wars.  Not from a distribution standpoint, of course, but from a “who makes the best OS?” standpoint.  (Of course, Apple fans will say that this has been the case since before OSX came about, but I would definitely not agree with that.  In fact, I would say that it was only after Apple decided to use Intel that the true power of OSX was apparent; PowerPC chips were pretty pitiful.  Would I have preferred Apple use AMD?  Yup, but you can’t have everything you want in life.)

Anyway, my point was that Vista has been a marketing failure, and a technological disappointment.  There are things under the hood in Vista that make it more than Windows XP SP4, but they are incremental changes that didn’t really change the way that people interact with the computer, the way that using OSX is such a change.  And the new “features” in Vista, such as always asking if you really want to do that, are just annoying as hell.  (Of course, if you’re running an aggressive firewall on your machine, you essentially get asked that question all the time, too, so….)  So, Vista as a brand is gone:  “Microsoft introduced what it said would be a slimmer and more responsive version of its Windows operating system on Tuesday, while unceremoniously dropping the brand name Vista for the new product.”  So sayeth the New York Times.  And the tone of the article definitely suggests the folks in Redmond have essentially conceded the best-OS argument, and now see themselves as the underdogs:

Mr. Sinofsky took the stage and issued an apology of sorts for the problems and frustrations associated with Windows Vista. He said the company had listened to and was responding to the feedback.

“We got feedback from reviews, from the press, a few bloggers here and there, oh, and some commercials,” he said, with a nod to a lengthy Apple advertising campaign that has mercilessly poked fun at Microsoft’s woes.

I don’t know if Windows 7 is going to be any good.  I happen to not mind Vista all that much, where I’ve worked with it, but it isn’t very interesting.  By the same token, I’m not that big a fan of OSX–it’s pretty and all, but there’s just something about it that doesn’t satisfy me, though if the OS were sold on its own, without being tied to the hardware, I might be tempted because of BootCamp and/or Parallels.  I’d be really interested in Linux distros–and since I don’t really do much gaming on my PC, that’s an option that could work for me–but there’s one thing that would be much more difficult if I went that route: having to use OpenOffice, which is a really good program in so many respects, but there’s one crucial flaw.  Do you know how difficult it is to make a Table of Authorities in OpenOffice, and how easy it is in Word?  From what I’ve seen, there may be a way to do it using the bibliographic function, but I don’t think it’s the same thing.  The best thing would be a triple-boot system where I could play with all three whenever I wanted.

Update:  I figured out how to do a Table of Authorities in OpenOffice. The How-To is here.