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Posts Tagged ‘upgrade’

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.

Make your old Firefox addons work

July 5, 2009 2 comments

Since Firefox 3.5 has just come out I noticed that some of my addons were refusing to work with the new version. Having found out that this is generally down to the addon installer file containing version numbers for older versions of Firefox, I decided to embark upon a quest to make some of my older addons work with Firefox. The steps I’ve used are outlined below. However, before you start you’ll need to download and install 7-Zip (a review of this can also be read.) I’ve provided a video below which shows you how to install addons which were written for older Firefox. There’s also written instructions below in case you don’t quite see what’s happening in the video.

ffaddonsplayvideo

1. Download the addon:

Unless you already have the addon saved in your files somewhere, you’ll need to download it again. However, you’ll have to use a different browser to Firefox. This is because Firefox checks to see what version you’re using, and references this against the addon compatibility. You won’t be able to install it from within Firefox if you’ve got a newer version than the addon specifies. Therefore, use something like Internet Explorer or Chrome to download the file.

2. Open the file using 7-Zip

Since that single file contains many other files all hidden away inside a single .jar, you’ll need to open it up using 7-Zip to see the innards. Once it’s downloaded, right-click on it, hover over the item in the context menu which says ‘7-Zip’ then click on ‘Open archive’. A new window will now pop up which lists the files which make up the addon.

3. Open the install file

If the file doesn’t automatically open with Wordpad or Notepad, you will need to instruct it to. Copy the file to somewhere else (the easiest location is your desktop)  by right-clicking on the install.rdf file and clicking ‘Copy To’. Choose a location and then click ‘OK’. Now navigate to where you copied the file to, right-click on it, and click ‘Open With’ and choose Wordpad. On XP you will need to click ‘Choose Program’ in the menu which appears. In either XP or Vista, select ‘Wordpad’ and make sure you tick the box which says ‘Always use the selected program to open this kind of file’. Now click ‘OK’. You will now need to go back to your 7-Zip window, and should be able to double-click on the ‘install.rdf’ file to open it. If it doesn’t work, close 7-Zip, and open the file again as outlined in step 1. You can then come back to step 4 below.

4. Edit the install file

We now need to alter the version number in the file so it will let us install it into Firefox. In 7-Zip double-click the ‘install.rdf’ file. It should then open in Wordpad. You now need to scroll down until you see something like below:

<em:minVersion>2.0</em:minVersion>
<em:maxVersion>2.0.*</em:maxVersion>

You will need to change the second version number to this. You can miss off the final ‘.*’ on 3.5 if you wish to, but it may not work with future updates to version 3.5, eg 3.5.1.

<em:minVersion>2.0</em:minVersion>
<em:maxVersion>3.5.*</em:maxVersion>

Then save the file and close Wordpad. 7-Zip may pop up a message asking if you want to update the file. Click ‘OK’ to update it.

5. Install into Firefox

Finally we’ve reached the end. First you need to open Firefox, and open the addons window (Tools > Addons). You also need to locate the original location that the addon downloaded to. Ususally a downloads folder or your desktop. This is the single file that you extracted in step one. You need to drag that file over to the addons window. Firefox will then ask you to confirm that you want to install it. Click ‘OK’ and it should do it for you. You’ll then need to restart Firefox for the installation to complete.

I hope that this worked for you! Let me know if you had any trouble getting it to function. If the addon doesn’t work right, you can still disable it in the same way you would any other addon; through the addons window in Firefox.

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.