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Month: August 2009

Ga-ga over Windows 7?

Ga-ga over Windows 7?

I’m kind of intrigued by the praise, upgrade fever, and unfortunate fan-boy-ism over Win7 coming out.  The basic talk on the forums/street is this:  That Vista blows *ss, is completely useless, and a train wreck.  Win7, however, is the messiah come to rescue Microsoft.  I however, find this really weird.

See, I adopted Vista when it first came out.   And yes – it had problems.  The primary being because they changed the driver model, you were at the whims of your hardware vendor to come out with a working driver.  And many vendors (Creative Labs being one of the worst offenders) simply never made working drivers for their old hardware.  They either simply didn’t make them, or you were stuck with crippled or wrong drivers that just happened to sort-of work.  I had lots of trouble with sleep/wake/power problems, but honestly, I had about the same number of problems with Windows XP.  Sleeping/waking has never worked well in Windows in my experience.  There were a number of niggling annoyances with my sound card not switching to Dolby correctly and so forth – but I got them sorted out well enough to be happy with it.  After all – the actual stability of Vista, and the Aero effects simply made it worth it to me.  When things did work – I could sleep/wake my machine for weeks on end without a reboot.  However, it didn’t really reach that stage until we hit Vista SP1.  And with the latest updates in SP2, it’s just about right.

Now when I put win7 on a test machine, outside of the much faster speed, I’m not noticing a lot of differences between it and Vista SP2. Sure there have been little tweaks, but honestly, out of the box – it felt and looked just like Vista to me.  It feels more like an upgrade from Win95 to Win98 than the all-out amazement that the forums/popular opinion seems to be.  Maybe it’s just because people wrote Vista off so badly and haven’t seen it lately.

Oh, I’ll get a copy and upgrade when I need to do an OS re-install.  Just kind of surprised where the public opinion is.  She’s fickle.

Windows 7 get’s an upgrade to B now

Windows 7 get’s an upgrade to B now

Two fixes for two of my annoyances earns Windows7 an upgrade to a B:

Emulate Vista Classic Menu on Windows 7:
There’s a couple of different solutions, but this one seems to be the best:

Remove the Aero snap-to-edge window behavior:

Windows 7 RTM review

Windows 7 RTM review

Since I have a subscription to Microsoft developer network (MSDN) – I have a *legal* copy of Windows 7 Ultimate – and the other day I stuck it on my HP laptop to play with it.  Here’s my quick first review

The Good:

  • Faster – yes, it’s faster.  I even installed the 64-bit version on my laptop with 2gb ram, and it’s quite noticeably faster than Vista 32 was on the same machine for opening apps, switching apps, etc.
  • Driver updating/problem fixing – was really impressed during installation how efficiently it found, downloaded, and installed drivers for everything on my machine – and it really worked.  I didn’t have to go to 50 different websites and download custom drivers.  It did it on its own automatically.
  • UAC improved – Scalable user account control (UAC) notifications.  Finally – I ranted about how busted and stupid this was on Vista, and they’ve FINALLY fixed it – mostly.  You can tell the thing if YOU clicked something that it’s OK to run it.  It still pops up – but not nearly as much
  • Built in ISO burning tool – it’s not fancy or feature rich – but is functional.  Might get you out of a bind burning patch dvd’s or the like – but it’s sure no nero.  Why haven’t they got mount iso as drive yet? For heavens sakes every OS has this built in now but windows…
  • Windows Media Center – I like the cleaner interface and they did a great job with setting up TV stations with my tuner.  But it’s still a little clunky to use while watching a movie.  Without a remote, you have to scroll past movie info and some other menus to get to the ‘take me to root dvd menu’ selection.  Dumb – I’ll be doing that 100x more often than wondering what the name of my movie I’M CURRENTLY WATCHING is.

The bad:

  • Busted DVD playback – Whenever I watch movies with Windows Media Player, I get pink garbage all over my screen and the whole desktop flickers horribly.  If I watch it in  Windows Media Center – it’s fine.  I am updated to the latest nVidia driver for my nVidia 7200 Go.  Yes, the driver is still officially beta – so we’ll see – but man – it’s busted right now.
  • No classic start menu – you HAVE to use the Vista-style start menu.  No, no, no!  Wrong Microsoft.  I finally realized why this is wrong after using Win7 for a few days – answer: muscle memory.  With the Vista-sytle menu, you get a ‘last N programs run’ list to choose from, or if the program isn’t on the list – you have to click the Programs submenu to get the list of all your installed apps – TWO clicks just to find your app – a third to start it.  Problem is, the position of the programs on the ‘last N programs’ list move around constantly as you start various apps.  You can’t rely on muscle memory to pick your app or remember where it is.  You click start, have to LOOK through the whole list to see if your program is there, then possibly click Programs to get to the next page of apps which are laid out alphabetically and as you remember them.
    The time to start an average app is now more than doubled for me and I usually have to click twice as many times as before.  So, I created a folder on my desktop with my apps on them, and start them that way because my muscle memory automatically gets me 90% to the app I want when the folder opens – because they don’t move around.  Now how stupid is that for trying to work around this problem?  They removed the ‘Use classic menus’ option – which was in the betas.  If I’d known they were going to drop classic, I would have raised holy hell.
    Another point about the ‘last N apps used’ – I don’t know what algorithm it uses to put those apps on my start menu – but it seems like a dyslexic monkey is picking them.  I for the life of me can’t figure out why firefox never seems to get on the list (which I use daily), but the solitaire I ran one time is still on there…
  • Snap to edge/fullscreen.  If you drag your app to the edge of the screen – it often tries to make it go fullscreen or fill half-screen.  I found this really annoying.  Maybe I’ll get used to it – but more likely I’ll be searching for the way to turn it off.  I can’t wait to see how many noobies get apps stuck all over the place now.  This is as dumb as allowing folks to resize their start bars and end up with half the screen covered with grey start bar without knowing how to fix it. Really – this feature helps how?
  • Still has OS hickups – know those annoying long pauses you get for no reason?  While they seem to happen much less often than with any version of Windows yet, they didn’t entirely go away and you find yourself waiting for apps to come back to life while you twiddle your thumbs.

The Ugly:

  • Pinning items to taskbar – just admit that you’re trying to do the Mac bar and get it over with.  Unfortunately, this thing is more confusing to use and definitely doesn’t look as good as the Mac version.  I say you wouldn’t NEED pin to taskbar if your stupid start menu worked right.  It’s admitting that one or the other isn’t working right – isn’t it?  Yet your solution is to straddle the fence and continue to do both poorly – which looks terrible.  Classic Microsoft design.  Get rid of one or the other and do the remaining one right.
  • No more ‘classic’ anything – You can’t switch back to classic Control Panel, or classic folder views, or many other ‘classic’ controls.  The Action Center thing keeps track of all the security and update things that need to happen (nice), but you have to do all kinds of twiddling to get to any under-the-hood controls.  Yeah, maybe it’s easier for noobies, but I really doubt it.  You just put a smiley face and an extra layer of indirection on the same stuff.  That is different than fixing the problem.  If there is a problem – the OS should do everything in it’s power to solve it for you without asking or bothering you unless it absolutely has to.  I should never have to fight the OS to do my work – the OS should fight for me.
    This is a fundamental difference between Apple and Microsoft.  MS will hit you with dialogs that really, honestly, don’t help you solve the problem – but just tell you all about the problem and maybe enough info for the person to Google a solution.  Apple carefully removes features so that it will often pick a solution for you based on the smaller data set and do it – without asking.  Yeah, it’s a bit more draconian, but I’d rather have the OS do that – and then give you the power user tools to go change it by hand if you care – than having tons of knobs and tubes and covering it with a nice sheet so it doesn’t look so bad while still not actually solving your problems.   With Win7 you feel as if you walked through all kinds of fluffy menus that seem to take you twice as long to get to the darn thing you want.

Verdict: C+
It’s a good effort – good improvements – and a then a few steps back on usability.  It was telling when I did a bios update and it somehow nuked my RAID setup – requiring me to reinstall.  I had both a Windows Vista Ultimate x64 DVD and Windows 7 Ultimate x64 DVD sitting on my desk.  I thought for a minute, and picked up Vista Ultimate for re-install.  For all the goodness of Win7, I still prefer Vista right now.  If they fix some of these UI features, I’ll switch.  Till then – I’ll probably wait till Win7 SP1.

Banks, Oregon BBQ, Tractor Pull and combine demolition derby

Banks, Oregon BBQ, Tractor Pull and combine demolition derby

Best day ever!  I loved going out to the middle of Oregon farmland and catching this event.  I had been wanting to go for several years, but something always came up the weekend they did this event.  This year I made it – and it was a fantastic bit of farm-land fun.  Here’s a breakdown of events:

Lawnmower pull – Pull the deck off your mower and go.  Was not very competitive – was mostly for kids to participate and get into the fun.

Field tractor pull –  My favorites – a John Deere 520 has a good run and does a good wheelie.  I learned to drive a 720, which is the newer brother to this guy.  Had that awesome putt-putt-putt of a 2 cylinder 50hp engine.  God I loved that sound.

Modified tractors – these are not really tractors anymore.  They have 450 big-block car/truck engines with new transmissions/etc.  They have wheelspeeds of about 60mph and ground speeds of about 15-20mph

Truck pulls – come take your slightly modified truck out and pull away.

Diesel dual-turbo supercharged – crazy

Car blowup – take a car, cut its radiator hose and drain the oil, turn on and put a 2×4 on the gas pedal.  Wait for engine to self-destruct.

Combine demolition derby – the granddaddy of the whole show

Highlight reels (they consist of many parts put together – so watch them all)