Archive

Archive for the ‘Operating Systems’ Category

XP update causing BSOD

February 12, 2010 Leave a comment

If, like me, you’re still trudging along with Windows XP, you may be concerned to hear that a security update is apparently causing havoc with a number of XP computers. Update KB977165 has caused a Blue Screens of Death for some XP users, which prevents them from booting into Windows. It is also alleged by some that there have been similar issues for the update in Windows Vista and 7, but this is unclear. Since not all those who have installed the update have encountered a problem, the trigger for problems remains unclear, it is alleged by some to be malware causing the error, whilst others suggest a hardware fault.

A lengthy support forum has been created on Microsoft’s support website, with these instructions for removing the update being provided:

1. Boot from your Windows XP CD or DVD and start the recovery console (see this Microsoft article for help with this step)

Once you are in the Repair Screen..

2. Type this command: CHDIR $NtUninstallKB977165$\spuninst

3. Type this command: BATCH spuninst.txt

4. When complete, type this command: exit

IMPORTANT: If you are able to uninstall the patch and get back into Windows, in order to stay protected you can use the following automated solution which secures your PC against the vulnerabilities that are resolved with KB977165 until you can successfully get the update installed without the blue screens.

Please see the link below for the article describing the vulnerability that is fixed with KB977165 and how you can get protected without installing the actual KB update: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/979682

Advertisements

Another look at Windows 7

December 25, 2009 2 comments

Windows 7 comes with revamped software, faster performance, and features to speed up your work.

Those of you who’ve been visiting the blog for a while may remember that I tested out the Release Candidate of Windows 7 back in June. At the time, it was running on a virtual machine inside Windows XP. I was impressed, but not blown away. However, I’ve now grabbed the final release, thanks to the hefty student discount that I’m entitled to thanks to the good chaps over at Software 4 Students. Since it’s now all up and running and I’ve been using it for a few days, I thought I’d share my experiences of upgrading, and pick out a few features that I’m rather liking.  

I opted to do a clean install rather than an upgrade since I have a nasty habit of installing too much software and having too many files, which ends up slowing down the operation of my PCs. This was a nice excuse to clean out all the junk and start afresh with a shiny new operating system. After popping the disk in, I had to opt for either upgrading – which would mean that all my files and software would be kept – or a clean install – the route that I chose. This process was simple enough, but I did have to choose the drive to install it on – so if you’ve got multiple disks or partitions, you’ll have  to have a quick look through the options to choose the one that your current OS is installed on. I fear this might prove a bit tricky for some; I can imagine my Mum calling for help if she were forced to make a decision as to what section of the drive to install her snazzy new OS on.  

The disk then whirred about for a while as the installer worked its magic, extracting the files from the disk, restarting, expanding files, and copying them. I was concerned in the final stages of installation that something had gone wrong; it sat there for a good 20-30 minutes in the last stage, which were the final preparations, but it sorted itself in the end, and was ready for me to put in the usual information that is demanded; software key; computer name; user name; keyboard layout; time-zone and so on. After that, it restarted once more, and was then ready for me start using it.  

A pleasant surprise was the fact that drivers for hardware and devices all sorted themselves. When I’ve installed and reinstalled XP on my desktop, I’ve gained some strange enjoyment from hunting down and installing drivers. However, I didn’t need to do this with Windows 7; everything worked fine – even the laptop’s built-in web-cam functions, which helps to save time and ensures that users who aren’t quite so sad as I am don’t have to waste time with drivers, or calling for their resident IT person, concerned that nothing seems to be working.  

I only encountered one problem, and that was with McAfee. The first thing I do with fresh installs is to load on McAfee Security Centre software, but during the process of doing so, Windows popped up a disconcerting message that slapped me in the face and reported that the driver for McAfee firewall was incompatible, and had therefore been disabled. Naturally, my first reaction was rage at McAfee. Thankfully, the software then set about updating itself to a more recent version, and after a few updates and restarts, it got to a version that had made friends with Windows 7, and the two played nicely together thereafter. I was then met with a barrage of Windows updates, which is fine by me. One of them seemed to get stuck – the malicious software removal tool for December, so I cancelled this, allowing the others then kick in and sort themselves. The failed update can be beaten into submission by forcing it to try to reinstall again if I desire.  

Something else that I was surprised to see was that during the install Windows grabbed all my files from Vista and plonked them into a new folder on the C: drive called ‘Windows.old’. This meant I didn’t have to restore back my important files from my off-board hard drive. However, it’s best not to rely on this feature though, since something might go wrong during the install and your files could vanish in a puff of metahporical smoke. Aftering nabbing my important stuff from this folder, I deleted it using the disk cleanup wizard, since it was taking up over 60GB (!) of space, which is a fairly hefty chunk out of a 250GB Hard Disk.  

I’ve only installed two other software packages: Office 2007, and Adobe CS4 – incidentally, both of which I got a massive discount on from Software 4 Students – I love that company! As expected, they both installed without hitch and work absolutely fine.  

Having previously gone into more detail about features in my Release Candidate review, I won’t babble on much about the new features, but I’ll just pick out two or three favourites and briefly write about them.  

Hovering on an item will show a live preview

The new and improved taskbar is likely to the first thing that you notice has changed about Windows. Large icons are now used, which has the positive effect of creating more space for programs. Each icon then contains all instances of that software open: so multiple Word document would all be accessed from that one icon, and all your open Internet Explorer tabs and Windows would be shown when hovering on it. Previews of open windows were first used in Vista, but these have been improved in Windows 7 by making them larger and clickable, as well as causing the window to float to the front of the screen when hovered on its thumbnail. In addition, the item on the taskbar are clever enough to change their appearance

Right-clicking on an item on the taskbar brings up a selection of useful tools.

depending upon what the software is up to. For instance, when copying, moving, or deleting files, the Windows Explorer icon gains a green background that moves along, similar to a status bar. This saves you opening the window to see the progress, as well as allowing you to keep a beady eye on it to make sure it’s doing what you’ve told it to. 

In addition, further functions are accessible for some software by right-clicking on the icon. This will pop out a list of common functions or documents, allowing you to access them without having to open the window first. For example, the Internet Explorer icon gives access to recent sites and such features as ‘New tab’ from its context menu. In addition, the taskbar can also act as a dock – meaning you can pin icons there to quickly launch software, like the old quick launch toolbar, but more useful. 

Some software includes an area that expands, giving you access to features or files.

Similarly, the Start Menu has been improved. Most noticable are the menus that slide out from some programs when hovered on. This can help to speed up the process of opening recent documents, and gives you quick access to common features. Software that supports this feature can have items pinned to keep them there permanently – you might like to use this for a commonly used template, or you can remove items that you don’t want listed. In addition, the search feature that Vista users will be familiar with is now much faster and more efficient, allowing you to find files, programs, and Windows settings & tools super fast. 

Multitasking is also sped up by the ability to snap windows to different sides of the screen. Dragging a window to the left  edge makes it fill that half of the monitor, and dragging one to the right does the opposite. Moving it to the top makes it maximise. This simple feature comes in handy by saving you moving and resizing windows when you’re doing such things as trying to read a website whilst making notes in a separate document. 

Overall, my impressions of Windows 7 have been very positive. However, I would say that if you’re not able to get a discount on it, there’s no real reason to rush out and grab your copy. It’s a good improvement over both Vista and XP, but I don’t know if it’s enough to justify spending your hard-earned money on. Having said that, if you’re looking to purchase a new PC any time in the future, you should definitely make sure that it’s coming with Windows 7 – there are a number of small but useful features that help to save you time. If you’re currently stuck with Vista, you’ll probably find that Windows 7 is a big improvement in terms of performance – especially if you do a clean install; but if you’re still using XP and it works fine for your purposes, I see no reason to bring yourself up-to-date until you get around to buying a shiny new computer. 

All that remains is to wish you an enjoyable festive season – hopefully you’ve received some nifty new software, games, or gadgets from friends or family.

Run other operating systems with VirtualBox

As promised in the Windows 7 review, I’ve penned (or more accurately, typed) a review of Sun VirtualBox. This software allows you to install multiple OSes without overwriting or risking your current setup. Being the cautious fellow that I am, this prospect sounded appealing since I wasn’t willing to install it in a separate partition for fear of causing my files to implode. Therefore, Sun VirtualBox sounded like a smashing way to test out Windows 7.

Running Windows 7 on an XP host

Running Windows 7 on an XP host

After downloading and installing, you’re greeted with a window which allows you to add new operating systems. Clicking ‘New’ launches the wizard which guides you through adding one. You’ll need to fill out such things as name and type of operating system (eg, Windows XP, Ubuntu Linux, etc.) In addition, you’ll need to select how much RAM and video memory to devote to the virtual machine. I’d suggest not going past half, or you might end up with your host OS getting a bit upset. In addition, you will need to set up a virtual hard disk to store the operating system on; this will put by a defined amount of storage space for the virtual machine to use. Once you’ve walked through all the steps, you’ll probably want to check the settings of the OS before you run it. Click the newly listed item and then click ‘Settings’ to check everything is dandy. If you weren’t asked to do it during the setup process you’ll need to tell the software where to find the OS file. This is a .iso file which contains the stuff needed to run your OS. Choose ‘CD/DVD-ROM’ in the settings, and tell VirtualBox where to find the iso file. This will either be a downloaded file, or a disk. You can find much more in-depth help through the help menu within VirtualBox itself.

The first time you start your virtual OS, you’ll probably notice that the size is very small, and your devices might not work quite right; this could include audio or video cards not functioning correctly, and it’s also very likely that your Internet connection won’t work in the virtual machine yet. These mild catastrophes because the drivers for your PC haven’t been installed. Luckily, VirtualBox will do this automatically for you if you click on the ‘Devices’ menu, followed by ‘Install Guest Additions’. This will then mount a virtual CD which can then be run in the usual way in the guest OS which installs drivers to make things work properly. After a restart, everything should work smashingly; unless you’re using Linux, where getting your devices to work might be a little bit more a struggle.

Naff instructions aside, the software itself is rather smashing. You have the choice of running the machine in a few different ways. The first being in its own window like any other programme. This allows you to move it around, resize, or maximise it. The second is running it in full-screen mode, which gives the illusion of being the only running OS on your system. Finally, you can run it in in ‘Seamless mode’, which allows you to use both simultaneously – for instance it will place both taskbars at the bottom and you’ll be able to work with applications from both OSes on one desktop.

Performance seems pretty good, but this is primarily dependant upon the specification of your computer. You can alter the settings later until you achieve the right balance – such actions as upping the RAM allowed or enabling 3D acceleration show improvements when using the virtual OS. You can download the software from www.virtualbox.org.

Check if your system is ready for Windows 7 with Upgrade Advisor

Whilst no-one wants to think about the cold October days yet, they’ll be here before we know it. With Autumn comes Windows 7, and if you’re planning on installing it on your PC, you’ll probably want to make sure that everything you’re currently running will stay hunky-dorey. You can do so with the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor Beta, which also wins the award for software with the most unnecessarily long name.

The software will give you its conclusions and suggestions after it's finished checking.

The software will give you its conclusions and suggestions after it's finished checking.

Once downloaded and installed, you’ll be able to run it. It will then spend some time pottering around your computer, deciding what Windows 7 would get upset about if you were to install it. It will then advise you as best as it can about how to avoid the upset in the first place. It assesses: whether the PC meet the system requirements; whether your devices will function correctly; and whether there are any software incompatibilities.

Each item listed will show either a pleasing green tick which means “It’ll be fine, but run Windows Update after installing just to be safe”, or a slightly more scary-looking orange exclamation mark road sign which translates to “Oh dear, looks like that might not work. But it might still run, albeit with a few issues.” There are few tailored descriptions for incompatibilities – most just warn that the item might quietly implode if you upgrade, and advise that you seek an update from either Microsoft or the company who makes the software to avoid aforementioned implosion.

It’s still in beta, but in the final release it would be nice to receive more in-depth information about the incompatible items rather than just a stock definition for all of them. Even if you don’t find the software or device feedback useful, at least it will confirm for you whether your PC is capable of running Windows 7. You can download it from www.microsoft.com/windows/windows-7/upgrade-advisor.aspx.

Windows 7 RC Review

June 30, 2009 3 comments

I’ve been testing out the release candidate (RC) of Windows 7 in a virtual machine on my desktop PC. Therefore from the outset I’d like to point out that it won’t be performing as well as it could due to the limitations of the type of install used. However, I have still been able to use the operating system; sample its new features; and make a decision as to whether it’s worthwhile upgrading.

The software I’ve been using is Sun Virtualbox, a review of which should be coming soon.  This is free software which allows you to run operating systems inside others. I had to assign a certain amount of RAM and video memory which the machine could use. The limitations of this resulted in me being unable to sample the visual Aero features (which mostly just  makes things looks pretty) of the operating system, but the functionality was still intact. I’ve split the article up into sections. Within each is a commentary of what has changed and my observations and comments about the changes and features.

The Taskbar

Programs of a similar type are automatically merged into one icon.

Programs of a similar type are automatically merged into one icon.

The taskbar has been the same for yonks. Since Windows 95 very little has changed. XP brought with it taskbar grouping for when you had lots of the same window, and Vista added pretty little previews. Windows 7 goes further, and by default overhauls the taskbar. The most noticeable change is that the items now show as only icons. This saves on space. In addition, windows and tabs of the same application are rolled into one icon. For example, if I have ‘Documents’ ‘Music’ and ‘Pictures’ open at the same time, they’ll all be rolled into one icon which represents Windows Explorer. Hovering or clicking on the icon will result in a list of the windows contained within that icon. Had I been able to use Aero, shots of the windows would have appeared, making it easier to identify each. I would then be able to click on the image of the window to blow it up to full size. This is especially useful for web browsing, when you’re likely to have many tabs open. These are all available from the one icon on the taskbar.

Right-clicking on an item causes a program-specific list of documents or functions to appear.

Right-clicking on an item causes a program-specific list of documents or functions to appear.

Jump Lists is another addition. Right-clicking on a running or pinned item on the taskbar will result in a menu with common options and recent documents appearing. For example, right-clicking on Wordpad results in a list of recently saved documents, for Internet Explorer, it results in my most commonly visited webpages, and a couple of common options which are predetermined – ‘new tab’ and ‘inprivate browsing’. This addition saves time by cutting out the step of having to load or maximise the application, and then perform the action – you can perform it directly from the taskbar. Whilst this may sound unimportant, the time saved should begin to add up as the new features become ingrained in your work-flow.

I also found great excitement in the fact that when downloading a file in Internet Explorer, the icon changes its background to a moving status-bar, showing you how the download is progressing without the need to open IE’s download dialogue. The same also applies when copying or moving files. A minor addition, but a spiffing and potentially time-saving touch.

The Start Menu

A search for "Mouse" shows much improved results

A search for "Mouse" shows much improved results.

The Start Menu has also improved. Its now sports a much more accurate and fast search box, which makes finding things much easier. For instance, searching for ‘Mouse’ in vista would result in a single link to the mouse properties settings, followed by any documents related to ‘mouse’. In Windows 7, various other options are given, such as help topics related to

Commonly used websites and predefined features are listed for IE.

Commonly used websites and predefined features are listed for IE.

troubleshooting problems with your mouse; related windows options; and tasks related to the mouse. Searching was incredibly fast despite the limitations of the virtual machine, so it should be even faster on a properly installed operating system.

Another new feature in the Start Menu is the quick access. This works in a  similar way to the aforementioned jump-lists which are used on the taskbar. A small right-facing arrow appears next to applicable applications. Clicking this shows a list of recent documents and/or common tasks. Again, this saves you extra clicks by putting the most common actions there for you. It also prevents you having to remember the name of and find the files you’re looking for, since they’re listed there for you. You can also pin documents to the list. This allows you to retain quick access to files you’re using often.

Document Libraries

An example library containing contacts, favourites, and downloads.

An example library containing contacts, favourites, and downloads.

I must admit that I was a bit confused by this feature when I first looked at it. On the surface, it doesn’t look much different from the ‘Documents’ ‘Pictures’ ‘Music’ etc directories which have existed from XP onwards. However, there is a difference and it’s a great addition to the OS. The library features allows you to group in other folders without them actually being there. So I can create a library which contains a folder for my contacts, and all my outgoing emails. They won’t actually exist within the library, but you’ll be able to see all the content. You could do this yourself by copying over every file that you want to be there, but libraries keep track of the specified folders and link to the content within without you having to do anything.

You can view the documents within each folder added to the library without actually opening the folder. That’s spiffing because it saves you browsing through a bunch of folders and subfolders to find the file you’re looking for. You could have it tucked away in a chain of dozens of folders, but if you specify that folder or a parent folder to be listed in a library, you’ll always be able to access to the files quickly and easily. A good use for this might be when working on an extensive project or piece of work. You might have lots of different folders for this project, but you can group them all and see all the files in a library for your work. The implementation of libraries could be better though. The process of creating one could do with some simplification, since it involved creating a library then changing its properties to add in folders.

Redesigned Applications

The ribbon has been added to Wordpad, making it nicer to use.

The ribbon has been added to Wordpad, making it nicer to use.

Windows has come with built-in applications such as Wordpad and Calculator since the 95 and 3.0 respectively. In that time very little changed, but they’ve received a bit of an overhaul in Windows 7. Wordpad got jealous of the ribbon feature of Microsoft Office 2007 and swiped it for itself. Whilst its functionality is still very limited when compared to fully-fledged word-processors, it’s much nicer to use now and will suffice for quick lists and notes.

Calculator has also undergone some changes. It still looks basic from the outset, but now has options which let you add additional functions such as unit conversion or common calculations – such as leases.

Homegroup

I don’t feel it’s worth going into detail with this feature, but I will discuss it very briefly. The reason I don’t think it’s worthwhile spending a long time on it is that it’s not compatible with XP or Vista PCs. Homegroup is a feature added with Windows 7 designed to make it easier to share files and media with other computers on your network. It also tries to increase security by generating a unique password which must be given to those who you wish to allow to join your network. This acts as a double-layer of security in that anyone who wishes to join your network must first have the encryption key, and then they’ll need the Homegroup password. Unfortunately, XP or Vista computers in your home won’t be able to connect to a homegroup. I think it’s a shame that they haven’t made it compatible, as it would improve home networks and alienates those of us who will still want to run computers using older operating systems.

Snap

Two windows snapped to the sides of the screen.

Two windows snapped to the sides of the screen.

You may often find yourself working with two windows side-by-side, such as writing a Word document whilst researching a topic on the Internet. To put these two next to each other in XP or Vista you’d need to restore them and then manoeuvre them manually untill they’re nicely placed. Windows 7 introduces Aerosnap which fixes this. You can drag an application to the left or right hand of the screen, and it’ll automagically fill that half. Dragging the title-bar to the top of the screen will cause it to maximise. You can drag them back away from these positions to make them jump back to the way they were before.

Improved User Account Control

Users can set their own UAC level.

Users can set their own UAC level.

One of the biggest gripes associated with Vista was User Account Control (UAC). Many find it obtrusive and annoying with its constant nagging about changes that you’re trying to make to your PC. This resulted in some users switching it off completely, potentially leaving themselves less secure. Windows 7 improves upon this by allowing the user to choose the level of security which UAC applies. It implements a slider which can be moved up and down to increase or decrease how active User Account Control is. By default, it’s set to alert you when programs try to make changes, but not when you try to change something.

Summary

Is it worth upgrading? Whilst there’s a plethora of new additions which add up to make Windows 7 worth the investment, and there are other features which I could have also reviewed, such as the ability to emulate Windows XP so you can still run your older applications (Ultimate only), the improvements are only quite small small, so it may not be worth upgrading your Vista or XP machine unless you can’t bear them any longer.

I’ve been testing out the release candidate (RC) of Windows 7 in a virtual machine on my desktop PC. Therefore from the outset I’d like to point out that it won’t be performing as well as it could due to the limitations of the type of install used. However, I have still been able to use the operating system, sample its new features, and make a decision as to whether it’s worthwhile upgrading.

The software I’ve been using is Sun Virtualbox, a review of which should be coming soon.  This is free software which allows you to run operating systems. I had to assign a certain amount of RAM and video memory which the machine could use. The limitations of this resulted in me being unable to sample the visual aero features (which mostly just  makes things looks pretty) of the operating system, but the functionality was still intact. I’ve split the article up into sections, within which is a commentary on what has changed and my observations and comments about the changes.

Redesigned taskbar

The taskbar has been the same for yonks. Since Windows 95 very little has changed. XP brought with it taskbar grouping for when you had lots of the same window, and Vista added pretty little previews. Windows 7 goes further, and by default overhauls the taskbar. Windows and tabs of the same application are rolled into one icon. For example, if I have ‘Documents’ ‘Music’ and ‘Pictures’ open at the same time, they’ll all be rolled into one icon which represents Windows Explorer. Hovering or clicking on the icon will result in a list of the windows contained within that icon. Had I been able to use Aero, shots of the windows would have appeared, making it easier to identify each.

Jump Lists are another addition. Right-clicking on a running or pinned item on the taskbar will result in a menu with common options and recent documents appearing. For example, right-clicking on wordpad results in a list of recently saved documents, for Internet Explorer, it results in my most commonly visited webpages, and a couple of common options which are predetermined – such as ‘new tab’ and ‘inprivate browsing’. This addition saves time by cutting out the step of having to load or maximise the application, and then perform the action – you can perform it directly from the taskbar. Whilst this may sound unimportant, the time saved should begin to add up as the new features become ingrained in your workflow.

I found great excitement in the fact that when downloading a file in Internet Explorer, the icon changes its background to a moving status-bar, showing you how the download is progressing without the need to open IE’s download dialogue. A minor addition, but a very nice and potentially time-saving touch.

Customise your PC with UxStyle

June 28, 2009 2 comments

If you’re like me then you like to make your PC your own. Customisation with Windows PCs is fairly limited – out of the box you don’t have much choice with regard to themes. For this reason, many alternative solutions have popped up over time. These range from commercial applications to slightly dubious and potentially dangerous file changes. Having read a recent article, I’ve come across an alternative solution which is safe and seems to work rather smashingly. UxStyle allows you to use custom themes without paying a penny or involving yourself with altering Windows’ files.

Alduin theme for Windows XP. Many others are available if this doesn't tickle your fancy.

Alduin theme for Windows XP. Many others are available if this doesn't tickle your fancy. Click to view larger.

With regard to the UxStyle website, don’t be put off by the rather abrupt homepage – the developers have an incredibly dry sense of humour, which has the nasty side-effect of making you run a mile in fear that the software will make your PC explode. Fear not, for it won’t. After downloading and installing the software, you won’t actually notice anything different. However, it does run a service in the background which beats Windows into submission and allows you to install custom themes on XP, Vista, and Windows 7 . The latter may be more prone to getting upset by the software, though. The aforementioned service should set itself to run at startup, this will let you apply custom themes and keep them for the next restart.

Despite the claims to the contrary with the “Talk to us, let us laugh at your problems” button, the developers are actually very helpful, and on the forums I was able to find a solution to the problem I was having. It had already been asked by someone else and solved promptly by the developers. Their solution worked, and my problem is now fixed. A party followed.

“Where do I get these custom themes?!” I hear you cry. There is one primary spiffing source – Deviant Art. Within the category of visual styles you can find many user-created themes ready and waiting for download. These will ususally need to be unzipped since they were compressed to make your download faster. If you’re not able to unzip the packages with Windows’ built-in unzipping software, you can use the free 7Zip. An article about this will follow shortly. I’ve been very impressed with the breadth and quality of themes available out there – ranging from simple colour changes to full-blown appearance overhauls, such as making your Windows PC look like a Mac. In addition to user-created themes, UxStyle is planning on adding a theme manager with the product soon, which will include themes and extra customisation options.

When you download a theme, you need to copy the files to Windows’ theme directory. This is located at C:\Windows\Resources\Themes .  Some themes just come with the Visual Style file; others come with additional shell files. Create a new folder in your themes folder for the theme, then copy in the style theme. If it also has an accompanying shell folder, copy this over too. This is less confusing than it sounds, but if I haven’t explained it well, there are better instructions given by Lifehacker below:

  • .Theme files must be in the /Themes/ folder, not within any subfolders.
  • .MSStyles files must be in their own sub-folders. If the style name is NewStyle.msstyles, then sub folder in /Themes/ must be /Themes/NewStyle/
  • If your style pack came with a shellstyle.dll, that also goes within it’s own subfolder, i.e. /Themes/NewStyle/shell/
  • If you have any problem with loading a style or theme, go back and double check for spelling and capitalization. The names are case sensitive. If a file has a combination of upper and lower case letters, the folder name you place it in must be spelled exactly the same

If you have difficulty with the above, I’m more than happy to provide screenshots or a video to show it. It makes more sense when you look at your own folders. The themes are applied in the same way as default Windows themes – through the appearance properties window.

I haven’t noticed any negative side-effects from using the software, and I’ve been enjoying theming my XP desktop, which acts as my testing machine. I was dubious about doing it to start with, but it seems to be fine. I’ll be moving onto changing the themes on my beloved Vista laptop next. However, it should be noted that the software is still in beta, and you may encounter a glitch or two. You can download the software from www.uxstyle.com, and the forums are at www.uxstyle.com/talk. Happy skinning!

Bad news for European to-be Windows 7 users

June 27, 2009 1 comment

Windows 7 in Europe will come without Internet Explorer. On the face of it, this might sound like good news – chances are you use a different browser and aren’t much of a fan of IE. However, this has other much more detrimental effects on European users such as me.

Firstly, a brief overview of the situation. The EU ruled that Microsoft should include a choice of browsers to their consumers. This would pose programming and security issues to the operating system however, and of course, Microsoft aren’t exactly going to be thrilled about adding competitors’ products to their operating system. You may remember when the EU also insisted that Microsoft provide a version of XP without Windows Media Player. Unsurprisingly, only about 3 people bought it. So, taking the example from what the EU wanted them to do last time they get their knickers in a twist, Microsoft is shipping ‘Windows 7 E‘ to Europe, Croatia, and Switzerland at the release on 22nd October 2009.  However, the EU isn’t happy because this time they wanted Microsoft to provide users with a choice of which browser(s) they wanted to install.

Now, why is this bad for consumers? Let’s start with the lesser of the two evils created by this senseless chain of events. Shipping an operating system without a browser sounds absurd – it is. The Internet plays and ever-more vital role in today’s technological world, and we need to be able to access it. We’ll have to resort to burning a browser installer file to a disk or copying it to a USB drive in order to install it on Windows. Alternatively we could go through awkward FTP commands to download a browser directly. This seems like a giant leap backwards. The EU has succeeded in creating extra hassle for the consumer, all the while waving the flag in our name, under the reason that consumers should have a choice, and the Internet shouldn’t be held back by a monopoly. At this stage, I’d like to point out that anyone who wants to is more than welcome to download a browser of their choice by navigating to their website. It’s not like Microsoft prevents us from choosing our own software.

If that first evil frowns at you, then this one will give you a positively scathing evil stare. Due to the removed Internet Explorer, you won’t be able to run an upgrade installation to your Vista machine. This means you’re going to need to back-up all your data, install, and then transfer it back over. In addition, you’re going to lose all your programs and their settings, because these won’t be kept during the installation. Again, thank the EU and Microsoft for being unable to reach a sensible conclusion.

The EU’s actions may have been, at a stretch, admirable, if it weren’t for the fact that OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) are still going to be able to install Internet Explorer when they build or sell new PCs. This means, everyone who buys a new PC with Windows 7 will have it come with IE, but everyone who wants to upgrade their current PC has to go through the hassle of moving all their data and reinstalling all their software due to the EU’s ill -thought-out decision. Their plan was to give users choice when it came to browsers, but they’re still going to be receiving a new PC with IE8 installed by their OEM, whilst those of us who want to update our existing PCs have to go through a huge amount of unnecessary hassle.