Windows 7 Addiction

About two and a half months ago I decided to try out Windows 7 Ultimate. I had read about the documents and settings migration from XP, and read about few of the recommendations out there on how to go about installing and what pitfalls to watch out for.

The first thing I did was to download the Windows 7 Compatibility tool from the Microsoft site and ran it. It basically said that my hardware had some issues.

One of the most critical issues I faced was the incompatibility, rather the lack of proper LAN drivers. This had actually blindsided me, and hit me hard. As I had initially been using my machine at a wireless hotspot, my home was also wireless networked at time also, I didn’t miss it. However, I realized the problem when I had to shift to a wired internet access location and was shocked to find that Windows 7 had not recognized my LAN card.

Scrambling to find a wireless hotspot, I immediately went to the Microsoft Update site and ran the update tool. To cut a long story short, after downloading over 700 MB of security patches, system patches, service packs, it also downloaded some of the missing drivers, including the LAN card.

Since then, I have not looked back to Windows XP Professional SP3.

I will definitely say, that Microsoft has really done a great job with this OS. I tried the Vista Ultimate when it had rolled out, but quickly uninstalled it, it really slowed my machine down. Then I had tried the Windows 7 Beta, and I was slightly impressed by it, however, it had some serious problems with my machine.

However, I believe that I have made a good choice, with a serious drawback. To understand that, I need to put down the specs of my machine. Please bear with me, the machine has a shipping date of June 2002. Wow! ancient innit.

Well here goes

Manufacturer Dell Inc.
Type Laptop
Model Inspiron 8200
Processor PIVm 2.2GHz
RAM 2GB PC2700
Graphics Nvidia GeForce2 Go 32MB
HDD 100 GB 5400RPM ATA
Screen 15.4″ SXGA+ (1400×1050)
LAN 3Com 3C920 (3C905C-TX Compatible) 100Mbps
Wireless Intel PRO/Wireless 2200BG
Modem Conexant SmartHSFi V.9x 56K DF PCI Modem
DVD/CD-ROM Toshiba CDRW/DVD SDR2102 ATA
Pointing Alps Touchpad

Straight off there were driver issues, however, I forced installed the XP drivers I had, and let windows update them from it’s own web site.

What I am not able to use is the Aero theme. I have seen it and used it on my friends machines, however, I am rather more comfortable with the Windows 7 basic theme.

I tweaked the UI, reduced icon sizes adjusted how the windows explorer should show files, set the blank screensaver (becuase I like that), and got down to business.

Now that I have rearmed the trial twice already, I am dreading the time when this third perid will end, which it is about to. What will I do then? Will I go out and beg/steal for cash to get the genuine license and active it? or … will I revert back to the XP I had and had gotten used to.

My XP rocked. Of course I had so many years to learn it, figure out it’s nuances and eccentricities and limitations and capabilities. In the end the only UI tweak I had done on it was to install the Zune theme for XP, the first thing I had done was thrown away the wallpaper. I like clean wall papers generally.

Now.. If I do go back to XP I will miss the following things that I have gotten accustomed to with Windows 7.

  1. Elegant failure recovery while operating.
  2. Elegant failure recovery while shutting down.
  3. Access/Authorization controls, asking me for administrative authentication before system level or security change.
  4. Improved Task Manager.
  5. Elegant Start bar design.
  6. Excellent Mouse over selection and control of multiple documents from running application on task bar.
  7. Better calendar (click on clock on status bar).
  8. Recently used Programs list and recent documents/activities against progams.
  9. Document Libraries.
  10. Other Libraries.
  11. Network/Network Connection management.
  12. Much better indexing.
  13. Integrated real-time search.

And … I’m sure there are many many more that I’m missing, and won’t realize till I get back to XP. So sad, but it’s bound to happen sooner or later.

Now, what is prompting me to switch back, well, lets just say I had the cash on me to be able to afford a proper license. Basically, this machine is probably classified as a legacy machine, however, I’m still using it.

For my family, specifically my two kids and myself, Friday nights are movie nights, as my wife works from home, I show them movies on my machine. When I was using XP, I used to play the movies with VLC Player, tried a lot of them, however, kinda clicked with this one. Everything was dandy until, I switched to Windows 7.

With the different graphics engine, not supported by my hardware, plus the limit of supporting DirectX 9c, I ran into a serious graphics performance issue while playing movies in full screen.

Luckily I have another HDD (80GB ATA) with Ubuntu on it, and it works perfectly on my machine. Of course some of the snazzy UI effects won’t work, OpenGL is a bit hiccupy due to the oldnesses and capabilities of my graphics card. So come Friday, I first switch hard drives before showing kids any movie. It’s a small over head at this time.

That got me thinking, what will I go through when I actually do switch back to XP, which prompted me to write down my thoughts.

I have also published another post regarding my thoughts on the Windows 7 graphics engine, and how it affects me, and perhaps other users also.

Anyway, I am almost dreading the day when I switch back.

I think the withdrawl will be bad! Dang, I need my Windows 7 fix!

Cheers.

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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.

Windows 8, 9 or 10

Microsoft Windows at the moment is based on a Monolithic architecture. *nix on the other hand are based on the Micro Kernel architecture. Recently I have been thinking what advantages would there be for Windows if it shifted to the Micro Kernel model?

The main advantage I see is that system will become more stable, and less efforts will go into updating it. It should also become more secure.

There are two tricks to this though.

1. The Windows experience we all have become so used to should not change at all.
2. It should still support all software for Vista and Windows 7.

The second part is more complex to handle and perhaps there could be dummy modules/interfaces that redirect application requests to new components under the new model.

Perhaps it is in the Road Map for Windows, I can’t say with certainty.

Microsoft and Windows XP, VISTA and 7

We all have been using XP flavors since it came out, it has matured and become a stable platform. However, we have recently been given VISTA in it’s 5 flavors, and Windows 7 is due to launch sometime this year, or next year (2009/2010).

What happens to people who have switched to VISTA? Is this not a very short time Microsoft is giving to people between OS upgrades? Is it actually going to be worth it to switch to a new version of Windows.

I am using an old Dell laptop, the XP Professional I have is running perfect on it. I have successfully installed VISTA Ultimate (just for testing) on it, though it does not run the AERO theme. I didn’t understand that concept. Why couldn’t I get the Aero theme, because my Display adapter is too old. But hey, I was using the classic look anyways so that doesn’t matter.

Recently I also tried Windows 7 Beta, Build 7000. It was alright, again, no fancy shmancy themes that I could get. Thought the Task Bar was interesting, features was pretty alright. Had serious driver issues, and stability issues. Perhaps the stability issue was because of not having proper drivers.

Where is Windows trying to take it’s operating systems. I completely agree, user experience is a must, however, to what extent should this be the driving force for any product. When does “User Experience” start hindering “System Functionality”.

Will I be shifting to Windows 7 anytime soon? In short, No I will not shift to a Windows 7 or Windows VISTA. Windows XP Professional SP3 suites my needs perfectly.