Windows 7 Graphics Engine

I own a Dell Inspiron 8200 (Intel P4m 2.2GHz + 2GB RAM) with a Nvidia Geforce 2Go 32MB RAM and am currently evaluating Windows 7 Ultimate (trial). I have been an XP user since the begining. Being an IT professional, and an avid tinkerer since the begining. I personally feel, and I’m sure there are a lot of people out there with similar feelings, that Microsoft is leaving us behind.

Hey, I’ll be the first one to promote advancements in hardware architecture, microprocessor manufacturing and software. And I also understand that for organizations it is difficult to maintain legacy or old hardware as it adds an additional cost to the product, also it becomes a technical nightmare to manage and maintain and provide support to the customer base.

Microsoft either made a huge blunder with Vista or it was a fire test, a market study so to speak. They guaged the user response to a radical change in the operating system. They needed to do that to do three things, 1) to test their new graphics engine and the radically changed user interface, and 2) to see what percentage of users would actually switch, and 3) to technically evaluate the operating system to look at what problems the general user is facing.

Some might say it was an expensive exercise.

The company needed to push the new technology out to the market, however, by pushing it out now, like they did, they have put a lot of people in a very difficult position to make a choice, not only upgrade the operating system, but also, upgrade their hardware.

It is easier for a user to upgrade software, however, hardware is another issue.

I live in a developing country with a much weaker economy than the US. This translates to a much lower buying power, which means, I am borderline between switching over to Linux. However, my work always has kept me on the Microsoft of things.

If I were involved in the architecture stage of Vista and 7 this is how I would have gone about this.

  1. 1. Draw a line on what minimum legacy hardware will be supported.
  2. To not alienate the customer base who do not want to or cannot affor to upgrade graphics, an option will be provided
  3. This option will provided limitations to the Windows 7 user interface.

Legacy Graphics Support

At the architecture level, I will design the graphics modules in such a way that, it may be switched between legacy support and contemporary support. Afterall, according to my knowledge Windows is a micro-kernel architecture, so this should not be that technically difficult. It is a matter of how the graphics engine will be supported. Allow for new architecture, and build a wrapper for legacy architecture for limited support. This should allow the XP graphics drivers to run natively, and not be forced onto the DirectX 10/11. Simply put, My graphics card supports DirectX 9 and XP supports up to 9c. So when I install on my machine, Windows 7 asks me if I want legacy graphics support, explaining the difference in terms of DirectX support. If the user says “Yes” then Windows 7 does not install the DirectX 11, but installs the older graphics engine to allow for XP drivers. Otherwise, it does what it does now.

The reason I am thinking on these lines is because, I at one time tried the Vista Transformation Pack, and then later on also tried the Windows 7 Transformation Pack. the amazing thing was that both producs changed my XP interface to include a lot of user interface goodies that Vista and Windows 7 had introduced, including the alpha blended borders, the fancy 3D Alt-Tab alternative, the task bar application previews. Almost all were there. Of course these two products didn’t change the fact that I was using Windows XP. Which basically convinced me that the fancy user interface can be supported on my 8 year old machine.

Now with the support option for Legacy graphics, I feel that Microsoft can put in a disclaimer, say, sure, we’ll give you legacy graphics support, but we’ll disable the aero theme. I will be the first one to switch. Simply because, I would be able to watch movies which I like doing sometimes with my kids, do some graphics intensive work, maybe play NFS Hot pursuit for 10/15 minutes. I would like to do that without spending two to three months worth of pay on a new machine.

Right now, Windows 7 supports my hardware pretty well, by that I mean, I get enough response from a fully loaded and configured system to run SQL Server, and develop computationally intensive desktop and web applications using .NET Framework 2 and 3.x. Of course I don’t get Aero, and personally I kind of prefer the basic theme over Aero. Aero makes the windows borders quite busy for my liking. — While using XP I was using the Zune theme, prefered it over the default Luna with it’s three age old variations.

I do like to watch movies with my kids every Friday, it has become an important ritual that we do every week. With Windows 7, I can’t do that, however, I have a Ubuntu installed hard drive stashed away, and on Fridays I have to put in another 5 minutes to switch hard drives. It’s just an inconvienence, that my kids enjoy also (they are 5 and 7 years old).

IE vs Chrome vs Firefox

There are so many browsers out there. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and Mozilla’s Firefox have been the mainstay on my machine since the begining. More recently, I have also started using Chrome.

With all the different features and approach to user interface design, security, tabbing experience, stability, availability of addons/plug-ins. I feel that these three browsers are pretty much head to head.

There is still one thing that I find misssing in both Chrome and Firefox. The Scroll Bar Right-Click Context Menu.


Composite image for the scroll bar context menu

Composite image for the vertical and horizontal scroll bar context menus.

[ IE8 + Zune Theme + XP Professional + SP3 ]

For some this small feature may be insignificant compared to the other measures of personal satisfaction. And, by no means I am challenging their opinion. However, at times I keep getting drawn back to IE, simply because this small feature allows me to quickly scroll back to the top of the page.

This context menu for the scroll bars is available throughout the Microsoft products, including the Operating System.

I have another HDD with Ubuntu on it, IE and Chrome are not available there, so sad. But, I am exceptionally happy with Firefox on Ubuntu. I have mentioned in a separate post some of my essential Firefox add-ons, that was for Ubuntu.

Somehow I feel that it would be really fun if Microsoft upped the ante in the Browser Wars and introduced IE8 for Linux also. It’s not that it’s not possible, or Microsoft does not have the man power to do so, neither is Microsoft “afraid”. I think it is more of a numbers game, supporting a team of developers to maintain a free version of IE on non-MS platform. There is no revenue in that.

I would have expected Google to have launched a Linux version though. Perhaps at some future date they might, but it wouldn’t be the same doing it later.

Migrating to Linux – Essential Software

Essential Software List for Migrating to Linux

I have been using Ubuntu 8.10 for nearly a month now. It is a big deal for me, being a dedicated Windows (Windoze) user since 1993/1994. Since then from time to time I have tried out various distros, Solaris, Irix, Red Hat were what I experienced during my university days. Later on Fedora, SuSE and Ubuntu. All these never lasted long enough, except now.

The first experience was that Ubuntu is the easiest to install when compared to Fedora and SuSE. It came loaded with a lot of software already. However, Below is a list of what I think are important software, from the point of a Windows user..

  1. Open Office from Sun is a good alternative to Microsoft Office. It supports Office 7 file formats.
  2. OpenProject is a good equivalent for Microsoft Project 2007, allowing the opening and editing of Project 2007 documents.
  3. I was using VLC Player on Windows, and am still using it here.
  4. Pidgin is the almost all-in-one IM messenger, for me it supports Google Talk and Live Messenger protocols.
  5. Skype for Linux is available from their site, I use it for official chit-chat.
  6. aMSN is a Live Messenger clone for Linux, tried it for a little while but then switched to Pidgin.
  7. MonoDevelop is the IDE for developing software over MONO, the port of Microsoft .NET framework.
  8. Deluge bit torrent client I prefer over the pre-packaged Transmission client.
  9. Firefox was my choice of browser on Windows, it still is on Linux.
  10. Evolution mail client I use for connecting to Exchange.
  11. Gimp is a great Image authoring and editing tool I was using on Windows also, it is here on Linux.
  12. {More to Come}

I will keep updating this list as time goes on, or when I can. 😉 If you have any suggestions, please let me know through your comments.