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Posts Tagged ‘beta’

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.

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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.

Has Firefox burnt out?

It seems like it’s everyone and their dog’s favourite bit of open-source software. It’s been the choice of both basic users who were pushed to change, right up to professionals who know that it’s better then Internet Explorer. However, with a horde of new browsers released recently, and a lack of updates and new features from Mozilla, is it time we doused the flames of our firey chum?

Version 3.1 might be released by the time I’m using a zimmerframe and moaning about children being on my lawn. But I wouldn’t bet on it. There’s been setback, after setback on this release, and even when it is released, no features which are not currently available in other browsers will be added. With Mozilla’s interface designer, Beltzner, now saying there will need to be fourth beta (fourth!), surely it’s time for all of us to reconsider our choice in browser?

With other browsers offering more features and faster browsing, has Firefox lost is spark?

With other browsers offering more features and faster browsing, has Firefox lost is spark?

Chrome is faster, Safari is faster, Opera 10 is faster. The only thing slower is the elephant desperately masquerading as a browser: IE8. Speed is a key issue for many users – we’re all obsessed with it: if we can’t get there in the blink of an eye, we’re not interested. 3.1 is set to have a massive speed increase, but with current alternative browsers, or at least reliable betas, in the case of Safari, offering a massive speed increase, Firefox certainly can’t cling onto users due to its speed.

Firefox’s betas aren’t approachable to the ordinary user: it’s not linked to or even mentioned on the homepage, and the whole beta testing process at Mozilla appears to be geared towards those with an IQ higher than that of Stephen Hawking: with all the jargon and incessant technical babble, it’s difficult for an ordinary user to find the download, let alone help to improve it.

Speaking of which, Firefox isn’t targeted enough towards consumers. This is epitomized by the lack of a new tab button being present by default. When I get friends or family to switch browser, I always add a new tab button to the toolbar, and/or install an extention which adds one in a sensible location: to the right of open tabs. If users are switching from IE7, they’ll want the same simple tab functionality as they were accustomed to: they simply won’t be interested in fiddling around to add buttons or installing extensions to do something that was so simple in their previous browser. Simply adding a new tab button to the browser by default would make the whole thing more approachable to a typical convert.

Addons have long been a key reason for users sticking with Firefox. However, the average user neither knows about nor is interested in addons. Again, I draw the example from my friends and family: they only know about or use addons if install them for them, and then they just create an extra hassle due to Firefox’s cumbersome addon update methods. Certainly some users love addons, I use a fair few in my Firefox, but they’re on their way to Google Chrome, where I can get both a faster, easier browsing experience, plus addons very soon.

Mozilla hasn’t done anything new or innovative with their browser in a long time: all the new features coming in 3.1 have already been implemented by other browsers. By contrast, the newest contender, Safari 4,  released many new innovative features. I think we could well see Firefox’s browser share dropping soon unless the snail that Mozilla has become recently makes a turnaround. Fast.

Safari 4 beta released

February 28, 2009 Leave a comment

Apple’s Safari browser, originally a Mac OS only product, has been released on the Windows platform for some time now. However, a new version has been released for testing, and it’s pretty polished for a beta. Its speed is astonishing – slightly faster than the other front runner for speed, Google Chrome, and astonishingly faster than the most widely

used browser, Internet Explorer 7. It also adds some nifty new features: ‘top sites’ appears in an aesthetically pleasing

The Safari history cover-flow

The Safari history cover-flow

showcase when opening a new tab; a cleaner and more complementary interface has been donned, replacing the awkward-looking brushed aluminium of its predecessor; and the ability to flick visually your bookmarks in a similar way to Apple’s famous Cover Flow on their iPods and Operating System is a welcome addition.

The new look for Safari sees an end to the somewhat obtrusive Mac-style appearance which the previous versions forced into Windows. Instead, it has a much more ‘Vista-ish’ appearance, allowing the glass of Vista in the title-bar to shine though. It’s also used Chrome’s bright idea of moving the tabs to the top, making good use of the title-bar; therefore allowing more room for the webpage to be viewed and wasting less on the browser’s frame. As mentioned, it also ports Apple’s trademark flair for visuals: Safari greets the user with a sleek grid of their most commonly used websites when a new tab is opened. It also allows the user to search through their bookmarks and history using a Cover Flow type interface, where each page is represented by an image of it, rather than just the name or address, as in most browsers.

However, it’s still lacking in some features which you might expect. There is no ability to add custom search providers: this means you’ll have to navigate to the site you want to search in order to use the search box there, rather than simply using the search box built into the browser. I was quite startled to see that this feature had not been included in this release, as it’s commonplace in all other modern browsers, greatly saving time for the user. There is also a lack of customisation options: the user is limited to a very small number of buttons which can be added to the toolbar. It also currently to lack the ability to save tabs when closing it and have them reopen when next using Safari – a must for anyone who wants to quickly get back to the websites they were using last time. The new look also seems somewhat out of place on Windows XP; the baby-blue of XP’s default theme do not work well with the new use of the titlebar.

A pleasing sight for all web developers is the 100/100 results on the Acid 3 Test. This means that it should have no problem handling the modern coding standards – allowing it to display modern websites seamlessly and quickly. It also aces the CSS3 Selectors test. By comparison, Microsoft’s latest offering, Internet Explorer 8, comes nowhere near to Safari’s results in either of the tests.

It’s certainly worth trying out, but I’m not convinced that it’s worth the switch for most users. However, it does seem to go a long way to helping dissolve a lot of the bad press and opinions which are often vented about this browser. It’s still in beta so I hope to see the fairly minor issues ironed out by the time of its full release. Why not check it out and see what you think?

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