TheONbutton Durham Computer Services

Remote IT Support and Computer & Technology Help in Durham, Chapel Hill and Raleigh NC

Windows Media Center 7 crashing on Recorded TV scrolling?

Minor freak-out at theONbutton HQ today when Windows 7 Media Center insisted on crashing when trying to scroll through recorded TV.  A quick System Restore to a few hours earlier failed to resolve the issue and panic ensued.  Fortunately this thread at The Green Button suggested simply finding where the scrolling crashes and deleting the offending file.  Problem solved and calm restored :-)

Neil Berman

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Oct 3, 2010 Posted by | Home Theater, Photo & Video, Microsoft | , , , | 2 Comments

Fix hp Laserjet 1012 Windows 7 driver issues

hp Laserjet 1012 Windows 7 driverI recently had an all-time lucky find when someone left an hp Laserjet 1012 laser printer in the recycling area of my apartment building, which looked to be in good condition.  The Laserjet 1012 is a pretty handy home and small office printer with pin sharp resolution, so I thought I’d give it a try.  There was no toner in the printer, but a quick shopping spree on eBay would fix that.  So $19 and a few days later, I had the Laserjet 1012 happily churning out pages from a Windows XP netbook.  Time to hook it up to Windows 7…or not as hp would seemingly prefer.

You see, it turns out that hp decided to not support the Laserjet 1012 on Windows 7.  It’s not as if the printer is even all that old, and hp does offer Windows XP & Vista drivers, so this has probably left a lot of owners high and dry…or more likely bitter.  Nevertheless I fearlessly went ahead and plugged the Laserjet 1012 into a Windows 7 computer to see what would happen.  Windows 7 did try valiantly to install the printer but ultimately failed and placed it in the Unspecified bucket within the Devices and Printers window.

I recalled a piece of advice that a Windows 7 dev had given me way back in the January 2009 Windows 7 Beta days, which was that Vista drivers would sometimes work if a manufacturer hadn’t yet written a native Windows 7 driver.  That was back when Windows 7 drivers were thin on the ground and we were still 9 months away from a retail release of Windows 7.  That approach shouldn’t apply now, but it didn’t look like hp was going to come up with a Laserjet 1012 Windows 7 driver anytime soon.

So I downloaded the Vista 64-bit driver from hp’s website, opened up the Properties window for the Laserjet 1012 in Devices and Printers, found the driver section and chose Update Driver.  I selected the Vista 64-bit driver that I’d just downloaded and hey presto, it installed in a flash!

Your mileage may vary of course, but this simple process got the Laserjet 1012 working on my Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit system.  It’s a shame that hp chose to not support the printer natively in the new OS, but I guess they want us to buy new hardware.  In a manner if speaking, their success is one of their challenges; the Laaserjet 1012 is so good that it’s hard to imagine why a home user would need a better quality laser printer.  So persuading people to upgrade willingly is probably a difficult task, but the approach should be to raise the bar even higher with compelling new products rather than simply withdrawing support.

Neil Berman

Sep 26, 2010 Posted by | Computing, Guides, Hardware, Software | , , , , , | 13 Comments

Steve Ballmer talks up Windows 7 tablets, devices still lacking

Steve Ballmer Windows 7 tabletIt feels like a long time ago that I was sitting in Microsoft’s CES keynote in January where Steve Ballmer showed off HP’s elusive Windows 7 tablet. That device is yet to come to market, while the iPad has walked off with over 3 million sales. It also seems that Android tablets are set to make a splash with companies such as Archos already at market, Samsung coming and plenty of others due to follow.  HP has intimated that it is concentrating on the Enterprise sector with its Windows 7 tablet and refocusing on Web OS for consumers.

So it was bizarre that Steve Ballmer’s press conference produced less certainty around Windows 7 tablet delivery than his CES keynote. At least in Las Vegas he was actually holding a tangible prototype device that seemed like to come to market. The message this week was that Windows 7 tablets are coming but we don’t know when.

To my mind this there are two things wrong with this message. Firstly, the lack of timeframe is severely problematic since the iPad holds the consumer mindshare in this sector. Android is poised to bite a chunk out of that near-monopoly as demonstrated by recent demand for the cheap (but unfortunately not cheerful) Augen GenTouch 78. Augen GenTouch 78So as consumers in this small market buy an iPad or Android tablet, Microsoft’s first generation sales become smaller by the day in this sector without a meaningful product. I mean when people need convincing to buy one first gen tablet, who needs two?

Secondly, as I’ve said before, Windows 7 feels like the wrong platform for a tablet and Windows Phone 7 feels like the right one. Just as Apple successfully ported iOS from the iPhone to the iPad, Microsoft should do likewise with Windows Phone 7. The OS is already touch optimized and is designed to run on low power touchscreen devices delivering sustained battery life and fun interactions.

Every Windows 7 tablet device I’ve used suffers from slow start-up times, poor battery life and has been challenging to use without a stylus. They’re essentially netbook-speed devices with a touchscreen and no keyboard; the Archos 9 is a case in point. The market has clearly demonstrated that this is not what it wants, as we can see from the success of the iPad.

Microsoft has admitted to missing a cycle in the smartphone market. It should review its tablet strategy to avoid missing another one.

Neil Berman

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Jul 31, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Hardware, Microsoft, Mobile | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Slate of the Tablet

Apple NewtonThe tablet market is moving fast this year and it’s hard to keep up. So here’s the State Slate of the Tablet.

Apple iPad running iPhone OS

Since the death of the Newton a long time ago there have been rumors that Apple was developing a new tablet. Steve Jobs finally announced the iPad earlier this year which, in case you’ve been on an extended remote vacation, is Apple iPad theONbutton landscapeavailable now running iPhone OS. It is available in WiFi only or WiFi+3G, the latter being a smart choice to get the most out of the iPad (pictured). The iPad uses the same App Store as the iPhone and iPod Touch. The iPad can run iPhone apps but dedicated iPad apps look best.

We now either own one, want one or don’t know what it’s for. Personally I didn’t know what it was for, then wanted one and lined up on launch day to own one. I now know exactly what it’s for, which is around 75% of all my Internet and media consumption. The chances are that if a website doesn’t work on the iPad, I’ll find another website or better still, an app.

Limitations include the iPad’s lack of Flash support, no easily accessible file explorer and a beautiful screen which is difficult to read outdoors. Strengths include ten hour battery life, loads of great apps and the ability to enjoy good Internet content without having to trawl the whole Internet to find it.

PC tablets running Windows

Windows tablets have existed ever since the release of Windows XP Tablet Edition years ago. These early tablets were typically ultraportable laptops with touchscreens that swiveled to convert the device into a tablet. They used resistiveArchos 9touchscreens and required a stylus for input, or a very precise fingernail.

The current crop of Windows 7 tablets, spearheaded by the likes of the Archos 9 (pictured), are certainly far lighter than their ancestors but the weaknesses remain. Notably the resistive screens and stylus or trackpad input method. Unfortunately there are just too many aspects of Windows 7 usage that require precise interaction to allow tablets to really exploit the OS.

Multitouch gestures have been built into Windows 7 but as soon as you try using an application like Microsoft Office on a Windows tablet, it is beaten in usability by iWork for iPad which was created from the ground up for tablet usage. Battery life is also an issue on Windows tablets which mainly now use the Intel Atom processor. This is a very power efficient CPU but real life battery usage on these tablets tends to top out at 2-3 hours.

Android

The Google and Open Handset Alliance backed Android OS is making a big play for tablet market share. Or perhaps I should say lots of little plays, because like the Windows tablet market the Android one is made up of a gazillion of Dell Streakemerging models. Unlike the Windows market however, the Android devices we’ve seen so far are all running slightly different versions of Android.

Personally I feel that while Android will overcome the obstacle of fragmentation in the smartphone market, I believe it will greatly hinder the platform in the tablet market. Most users ultimately don’t care if they can’t run this or that app on their phone as long as the device runs a core set of important apps. With tablets it’s different because they are perceived as far more capable devices than phones due to their screen size. If a user tries to download an app which only works on Android 2.1 onto a 2.0 device she purchase that day, frustration will mount. The fragmentation of Android builds on tablets may hold back the rise of the platform if left unchecked.

In terms of actual Android tablet devices in the marketplace, we have seen the JooJoo come and be poorly received. That was the most high profile launch until the recent Dell Streak (pictured above), which is a small tablet and large smartphone wrapped up in a heavy, less than pocket friendly chassis. There was a ton of Android tablets announced at Computex last week running various builds of the OS, which seemed to reinforce the idea that fragmentation is the biggest issue facing this platform.

Palm Pre PlusWeb OS by Palm

HP recently acquired Palm and the jury is out on whether the HP Slate, which was due to be launched imminently running Windows 7, will be shelved in favor of a HP Web OS tablet. Those who have used a Palm Pre (pictured) or Pixi may feel that Web OS could be the foundation of a very useful tablet interface. We’ll just have to wait to see what HP has in store for us on this front.

Neil Berman

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Jun 6, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Computing, Hardware, Microsoft, Mobile | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The magic of touch

magic touch ipad

While the iPad is not the first large screen touch device to hit the market, it has brought the technology into mainstream focus.  So does touch on a large device beat out a mouse and keyboard or is it just a …continue reading

Apr 7, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Computing, Hardware, Software | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Today is Windows 7 RC shutdown day

Windows 7 RC shutdown dateIf you’re one of those smart people running Windows 7 RC then take note; today is the day your PC will start shutting down every two hours.  On June 1 that install will become completely unusable, so do what you need to do now to get your all-important files off that computer and buy a upgrade full version/new PC/new Mac/whatevs.  Perhaps you’ve been so impressed by Windows 7 RC that it’s reignited your love for the PC, perhaps you got a free flight to Tokyo because Windows 7 was your idea (link is to my personal fave), or maybe you were just in it for the free ride and you’re now reading this on your new MacBook.  Hey we don’t care what you choose, we’re not platform snobs, we just love good technology.  Whatever you do though, do it soon; the clock is a’tickin, your files are a’fearin and the economy is a’beggin for your hard-earned money…

Correction: there is no upgrade path from RC to retail, it’s a full version clean install or nothing.

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Mar 1, 2010 Posted by | Microsoft, News, Software | , | 1 Comment

Teknica episode 3: A closer looks at the Apple iPad

In this week’s Teknica I take a closer look at Apple’s new iPad, talk about Windows 7 sales and there’s some news about Dell’s upcoming Mini 5 Andoid tablet phone.

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Jan 30, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Apple, News, Teknica, Video Features | , , , , , | Leave a comment

theONbutton@CES: Archos 9 tablet is smooooooth

I got some hands-on time with the Archos 9 tablet today and it is a seriously cool device.  Running Windows 7, the Archos 9 feels great in the hand, looks amazing and is sure to win many fans.  On the downside it was a little heavier than I would ideally have liked and would probably be tiring to hold after some time.  Additionally the 9″ touch screen, while responsive, cries out for a large finger-friendly interface rather than the standard Windows 7 front end.  Although it does have a usefully large on-screen keyboard.

Video above, gallery below…

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Jan 7, 2010 Posted by | CES, Computing, Hardware, Mobile, Video Features | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Microsoft crashes, then reboots to deliver pre-CES keynote

Things didn’t quite go according to plan for Steve Ballmer and Microsoft at tonight’s pre-CES keynote.  Power failed at startup but after a thirty minute reboot we were fully operational.

Steve was on form with some great Windows 7 stats, revealing that there were an incredible eight million beta testers during 2009, including yours truly.  Steve didn’t mention me by name; perhaps next time ;-)

Some important announcements followed, including the news that Project Natal would be born to the 2010 Holiday Season.  This groundbreaking gaming controller has the potential to be a game changer, using TV mounted cameras to turn your body into a game controller.  Pricing is still to be confirmed; let’s pray for good content to get the best out of this promising technology.

On the wireless front there was no mention of Windows Phone 7, but the HTC HD2 is coming to T-Mobile in the US.  This 1GHz Snapdragon-powered phone is as good as it gets right now on the Windows Phone platform, so it’s great to see this device coming to a major US carrier.

Ceton’s quad HD CableCard tuner was also demo’d, which allows recording of four simultaneous CableCard-encrypted channels within Windows 7 Media Center.  Could this finally propel WMC into mainstream living rooms?  I’d say probably not, because this functionality has existed for unencrypted channels for some time now.  However it’s a great step forward for WMC enthusiasts and takes this excellent home media platform even further ahead of the competition.

There was also a great looking HP slate on display (main picture) along with a couple of others.  Microsoft is clearly taking this emerging sector seriously as everyone awaits Apple’s potential entry.  No details were available on the HP slate, except that it is coming our way soon.

On the Xbox 360 gaming front, Halo Reach looks solid and Microsoft believes it has created a new psychological thriller game genre in Alan Wake.  This new game is said to play like a real life movie, I’ll live in hope but will hold judgement for now.  Microsoft also announced Game Room which is a retro gaming platform for the Xbox 360, giving access to over a thousand arcade games over the coming three years.  Game Room looks great, but I was left wondering whether this is really a viable offering, given that most of these games are already available through compilation releases.

Enjoy the shots in the gallery…

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Jan 7, 2010 Posted by | CES, Computing, Gaming, Hardware, Home Theater, Photo & Video, Microsoft, Mobile, News | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Pre-orders seem like a good idea but…

…only one of mine this year has arrived on time. Halo ODST: Yay bonus code, arrived a week late. Modern Warfare 2: Yay free $20 gift card, but late and getting later. Windows 7: Yay only $49 AND on-time, thanks NewEgg :)

The salt in the wound right now is that clearly Modern Warfare 2 has been a huge seller and widely declared to be awesome. In fact the Halo 3 online community has shrunk by about 150,000 this week and I’m stuck being one of those left behind. There can only be one reason for that. At least I know my copy has shipped, I just don’t know if it’s coming by airplane or horseback. Maybe it’ll arrive by stealth bomber like the Droid, although that would leave a nasty hole in the sidewalk.

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Nov 12, 2009 Posted by | Analysis, Rants | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Netflix & Windows Media Center meet, and it’s instant romance

Netflix Media Center 3Microsoft hinted about this one way back at CES in January and after a long wait it’s finally here.  Windows Media Center now has direct Netflix integration and I’m lovin’ it.

The Netflix icon appeared in my Movies section this week and clicking it led to a one minute installation followed by instant gratification.  Not much more to say apart from that it integrates seamlessly into the already superb Media Center interface.  Will other platforms ever try to catch-up with what is so far and away the best media library experience out there?

Here’s the gallery.  A warning for those of you not in the USA, this gallery may make you extremely jealous.  Sorry about that, and here’s hoping Netflix goes international!

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Oct 21, 2009 Posted by | Computing, Guides, Home Theater, Photo & Video, Microsoft, News, Reviews, Software | , , , | Leave a comment

Playing the waiting game

windows-7-taskbarAre you hoarding cash waiting to drop some on a Windows 7 PC on October 22? So was I, until I realized it might make more sense to take a different strategy. I think buying a Vista PC right in the next month might be a great idea, and here’s why I’m not mad…

You are probably aware that if you buy a qualifying PC at the moment it might be eligible for a free Windows 7 upgrade. Most manufacturers have a pretty clear definition of which of their systems are eligible, so you can check before handing over your hard-earned savings.

A FRESH START

Sounds like a schlep, after all this means installing a whole OS, and yes, it shouldn’t be considered lightly.
However most off the shelf PCs tend to ship with a boatload of bloatware, which few people want and tends to contribute to an overall performance degradation. Installing a fresh OS wipes all of this away and you get a clean system which is likely to perform better.

Normally OS upgrades are done well into the life of a computer, once many applications are all loaded on and working habits are well established. This can be disruptive to smooth running (experiences of upgrades to Snow Leopard and Vista are recent examples of this kind of user pain). But buying an eligible Vista PC in mid-October and going straight to a fresh Windows 7 a few days later sounds like a great plan to me as I probably wouldn’t have loaded on lots of software yet. Plus if you get the physical media it’s an added bonus in case you ever need to re-install.

GET ‘EM WHILE THEY’RE CHEAP

Deals on Vista PCs should start coming thick and fast as stores look to clear inventory ahead of October 22. Some refurbs may also be eligible for a free Windows 7 upgrade, but you should be extra-vigilant when checking the eligibility of these systems. For example it does seem like some systems on Dell’s Outlet site are eligible, make sure you check before you buy though.

CURRENT PLATFORMS ON THEIR WAY OUT ARE STILL CAPABLE FOR MANY USES

The other factor creating downward pressure on current Vista PC inventory will be the increasing availability of the Intel Core i5, i7 and i7 Mobile platforms. It’s likely that HP, Dell and Acer and the wider industry will time many of these system releases with Windows 7, again pushing existing inventory prices south. Those current inventory Intel Core 2 and AMD Phenom/Turion based systems are still capable for what many people need on a day-to-day basis.

WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN?

Ironically it seems, with Windows 7 right around the corner, there may have never been a better time to buy a Vista PC. Just make sure that what you buy is eligible for a free upgrade!

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Sep 25, 2009 Posted by | Analysis, Computing, Guides, Microsoft, Software | , | 1 Comment

Now we can all install a CableCARD tuner into Windows 7 Media Center, not just OEMs

WMCIt’s widely accepted that Windows Media Center is da bomb when it comes to home media convergence if you want your HTPC setup to include live TV.  But until now, those wanting to view encrypted cable channels have needed to buy a pre-configured HTPC from an OEM with a CableCARD tuner already built-in.

That all changed a few minutes ago when Microsoft announced at CEDIA that “Integrators and enthusiasts can now add Digital Cable Tuners with CableCARD to their PC”.  For now you’re going to need Windows 7 in your HTPC for this, unless Microsoft publishes an update for previous versions.

We didn’t see that one coming Microsoft, but you just made the Media Center HTPC faithful waaaaay happy.

CES 2010 update: Check out our video discussion with Microsoft about the Ceton CableCARD quad tuner.

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Sep 9, 2009 Posted by | Computing, Home Theater, Photo & Video, Microsoft, News | , , , , | Leave a comment

MSI X340

IMAG0093Hmm…the eagerly anticipated MSI X340; this one turned out to be a mixed bag.  Looks great, feels just OK to hold.  Keyboard is big enough, feels just OK to use.  Some reviewers have said the keyboard is horrific, it’s not quite as bad as that, but it does flex downward in the center more than it should.  The battery is replaceable but is outpaced by the Acer Timeline.

IMAG0100But for $899 it weighs under 3lbs, does HD video, has a bright 13 inch screen and a real-life-useful 1.4GHz Intel CULV processor.  That’s a tempting prospect…especially as many retailers are listing it at nearer $799.  If you like the form factor and can survive with less power the X320 sports an Intel Atom for $599, but also sacrifices the HD capable graphics chipset.

Crucially is the $899 X340 better than a $999 refurbished MacBook Air Rev A?  For HD video, connectivity and battery life I’d say yes; for coolness and build quality probably no.  Then there’s also the Acer Timeline series and the semi-light but powerful Acer AS3935-6504 with a 2GHz Core 2 Duo for $899.  It’s a difficult, but consumer friendly, choice.

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Jun 28, 2009 Posted by | Computing, Hardware, Mobile, Reviews | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Laptop prices falling hard

Today’s MacBook price cuts were both welcome and not unique in the current laptop market.  Ultraportables and desktop replacements alike have been suffering from netbooks and Intel CULV powered thin ‘n lights pulling down the whole sector.

It’s pretty cool that you can finally get a decently powered 3-4lb laptop with a 13 inch screen for well under $1,000; MSI’s X340 and Acer’s Timeline are good examples.  Both are HD video capable and provide enough power for day-to-day computing.

These machines pull down the premium end of the ultraportable market like the Dell Adamo and MacBook Air, which don’t really offer much more hardware than the MSI or Acer.  In fact the Dell is probably slower than both.  So now we have a $1,499-$1,799 MacBook Air, which is great news for consumers and effectively sets a glass ceiling for ultraportable prices.

At the heavier end of the market 17 inch laptops are under strain from all-in-ones like the Asus EEE Top which are semi-mobile and keenly priced.  I found a new Toshiba dual-core T3400 17 inch laptop on Amazon this evening for $529.  This thing was fully loaded, you really wouldn’t need much more for a day-to-day desktop replacement…and of course you can install Windows 7 RC and get almost a year of usage before you need to buy a license.

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Jun 8, 2009 Posted by | Analysis, Computing, Mobile | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Windows 7 Beta Review

windows-7-media-center-viral-videosI’ve been eager to give the Windows 7 Beta a workout following the demos I saw at CES.

My living room Media Center PC was an ideal candidate.  It’s a three year old Pentium 4 which takes care of all our viewing, media and browsing needs on Windows XP Media Center 2005.  Microsoft has claimed that Windows 7 is a streamlined OS capable of running on lower spec hardware than Vista, it’s time to see if that’s really true…

Test environment

windows-7-performance-indexFor reference my PC is running a 2.93GHz P4 with 3GB DDR400 RAM, 500GB hard disk and a low end Geforce 7200GS.  Not the most scintillating system by modern standards and probably equivalent to a $250 purchase these days from the refurbished inventory of e-tailers.  The version of Windows 7 Beta I have is Build 7000.  I’ll refer to it as W7B in this article.

Installations never go smoothly…or do they?

Installation was initially nerveracking but ultimately painless.  Nerveracking because I had to split a live primary partition into two, to create a boot partition for the new OS.  Painless because once Linux GParted had done its partitioning stuff, Windows 7 Beta installed in superfast time, restarting a couple of times and then it was done.  I had backed up my XP partition to another drive just in case, but fortunately all went according to the masterplan and W7B automatically created a dual-boot environment for me.  XP booted just like before and I so was all set for my W7B test.

windows-7-desktopStopwatch at the ready

The first thing I noticed was a faster boot time.  This could have been due to having a fresh install so I initially reserved judgement on that one.  However now that three weeks has passed and I’ve installed everything I’m likely to for a while, the swift boot-up lives on.  It’s not a life changing improvement but in the region of ten seconds faster than my XP boot sequence once all startup items have completed.

Sounding off

All navigation elements were very responsive: Aero, widgets and snap-to-edge all performed well with no lag.  But then I noticed there was no sound.  W7B had found my motherboard’s SPDIF output but did not configure it correctly.  A quick internet search revealed the latest Vista drivers which duly solved the issue.  In fact I now get proper Dolby transmission and far more signal reaching my amp, which means having to apply less gain within the amp therefore achieving a better signal-to-noise ratio than with my XP setup.

Taskbar implemented cum laude

windows-7-taskbarTaskbar, oh glorious taskbar.  So much has been written of thee already, what can I add?  This really is a great addition in W7B, I can envisage how well it could work once the touch interface gets enabled on the full release.  Seeing thumbnail representations of an application’s open windows is a fantastic browsing aid.  Being able to jump into application functions directly from thumbnail menus takes everything a step further.  Best of all, the thumbnails are dynamic representations so if you are waiting for a window to complete a certain action you can hover over its taskbar icon to view its progress in the thumbnail.

CPU and Resource Management

Having an older spec PC presented a good opportunity to see how W7B would cope with average resources.  windows-7-resource-monitorIn the initial days following installation I noticed some frantic CPU and disk activity, which I traced to Windows Media Player cataloging my music and video collection.  Once that was done, CPU activity became XP-like whilst memory allocation was definitely smarter.

Like Vista, W7B was able to address all 3GB of RAM whilst my 32-bit XP build was never capable of this.  W7B also supports ReadyBoost so I threw in a 4GB SDHC card and dedicated the whole thing to the OS.  That’s a cheap 4GB at $10, although ReadyBoost doesn’t make use of flash cards in quite the same way as conventional RAM.  However the combination keeps my paging file to a minimum and I’ve not experienced memory crunches.

Windows Firewall

The versions of Windows Firewall built into XP and Vista were never taken too seriiously by the security fraternity due their inability to block outbound traffic.  So whilst others had difficulty reaching your computer, your computer could reach others…which is a pretty big risk given the amount of nasty malware out there.  The W7B Firewall changes all that with firewall rules configurable for incoming and outgoing traffic.  This could seriously hurt the likes of ZoneAlarm and others, who have thrived to date on the weakness of Windows Firewall.  I run ZoneAlarm on my XP partition, but I haven’t needed to download it for my W7B setup so far.

Internet TV & Media Center

windows-7-media-center-internet-tv-guideEver since the touchscreen demo of W7B Media Center I saw at CES, I’ve been aching to try out the integration of Internet TV in the EPG.  Until now we’ve needed to open a browser, navigate to NBC’s website, find the news page, find the video page and then start streaming the news.  W7B changes this by putting content from nbc.com (and many others) right into the EPG so it’s accessible from within Media Center with the remote control.

The demo of this looked awesome and it’s just as good in my living room.  Content takes a little while longer to access than regular TV channels, but it’s a heck of a great feature and the integration is seamless.  News, concerts, full episodes are all available and free to access with occasional advertisements for some content.

Snap-to-side

windows-7-snap-to-sideThrowing a widow to the side of the screen results in W7B automatically resizing it to fill half the screen.  This makes comparing documents or images super easy.  Throwing to the top maximizes the window.  Again it’s easy to see how these small but useful enhancements will make life easier once the touch version gets released.

What’s needs work?

Hmmm…I haven’t found anything yet inherent in W7B which consistently fails.  My sound sometimes cuts out following a video call, which could be a driver issue.  My computer wakes from standby mode much more often than it did in XP, probably due to some strange service which I might not need to be running.  Skype is not yet fully compatible.  There’s also a registry fix out there for .msi installers which fail – I had an issue installing Office 2007 and when the installer failed W7B automatically downloaded the fix article from Microsoft’s knowledge base…finally intelligent context sensitive help has arrived.  After following the instructions in the article to update the problematic registry entry the installer worked.

A game-changer for Microsoft?

Apart from that the whole experience has just worked superbly and I’m happily running W7B as my everyday environment now.  The Beta version expires on August 1st, so perhaps this hints at the possible release timing of the full version.  Remember that the release version will hopefully be touch-enabled, so that will be a whole new ball-game, and from what I’ve seen so far Microsoft could hit a home run with this one.

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Feb 1, 2009 Posted by | CES, Computing, Microsoft, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

theONbutton@CES – Windows 7 Beta new features hands-on

If you tried to download the Windows 7 Beta yesterday you may have been part of the huge demand which overwhelmed Microsoft’s download servers.  Fear not, theONbutton is at hand with an exclusive video of many of the new Windows 7 Beta features to help you make up your mind…

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Jan 10, 2009 Posted by | CES, Computing, Microsoft, Reviews, Software, Video Features | , , , , , | Leave a comment

theONbutton@CES – Steve Ballmer’s Microsoft Pre-CES Keynote

p10304161Steve might not have come on stage last night in a blazing storm, but his Keynote was packed with content, a frankly hilarious Xbox song from Tripod but unfortunately no Zune phone.  Here’s a summary from the front row…

  • Windows 7 Beta available now to MSDN and TechNet subscribers.  Due to be available to everyone on Microsoft.com on Friday this week.  I’ll write about it as soon as I find a spare PC…
  • Halo Wars (strategy game) and Halo 3 ODST (similar to current Halo 3 but with new storyline) were announced.  See Halo Wars screenshots on today’s earlier post.
  • Windows Live Hotmail, Messenger and Photo Gallery have been packaged into Windows Live Essentials and will be preinstalled on Dell PCs, together with Live Search
  • Live Search will also be installed on Verizon Windows Mobile phones
  • Microsoft sees continued development and take-on of seamless communication between PC, TV, phone and the internet cloud
  • A partnership with Facebook now pushes Facebook updates to your Windows Live profile
  • Windows 7 cool features demo’d: Play To allows you to stream media to play on any device in your Homegroup or stream from them.  Snap to side allows easy comparison of windows side by side.  Multitouch looks pretty awesome for map and photo manipulation, but is not in the Beta build.
  • Kodu Xbox 360 online community game creator was demo’d and looks like a lot of fun.
  • Netflix queue control from Windows Mobile phones is coming soon.
  • Internet Explorer 8 will hook-in with Hotmail to provide add-ins such as restaurant finders, whose results can be inserted directly into emails.

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Jan 8, 2009 Posted by | CES, Computing, Microsoft, News, Software | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Apple fortifies home offerings whilst competitors journey to the cloud

Apple’s keynote at Macworld 2009 this morning was surprising.  After rumors suggesting a possible iPhone Nano and much needed new iMacs, we were instead given an in-depth look into feature updates on largely non-web-service software and an updated Macbook whose battery design sounds as problematic for environment as its servicing does for remotely located owners.

On a positive note it’s great to hear that iTunes is going DRM-free and that the new 17″ Macbook Pro will be offered without a glossy screen, albeit for an extra $50.  The celebrity music lessons on GarageBand also sound cute.

For me there were two worrying trends in this keynote:

1.  Apple continues to concentrate on non-web-service productivity software when Microsoft, Google and the IT industry as a whole continues to press on towards online web services such as Microsoft Office Web and Google Docs.  Apple is missing out on extending its application reach to Windows users by doing this.  iWork.com seems to be solely an online document sharing facility for local iWork users.

2.  Apple continues to concentrate on extremely powerful computers in relation to the market as a whole; even its base Macbooks are far more powerful than mid-range Vista laptops (which are cheaper).  This makes me concerned that when (the apparently very fast) Windows 7 gets released the value differential between Windows and Apple laptops will widen further, as Windows 7 will run well on cheap low power computers.

Enhancements like geotagging in iPhoto are nice for the small user-base they serve, but they don’t really extend Apple’s reach into Windows homes compared to say Picasa which is on offer for both Mac and Windows (as well as Linux) platforms.  I can’t help feeling that Apple is moving further towards high power local computing which might not be recession-proof, whilst the market as a whole is gravitating towards a more inclusive low power cloud model which also happens to be more recession-friendly.

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Jan 6, 2009 Posted by | Apple, Computing, Hardware, Microsoft | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Are Windows 7 pre-Beta success stories responsible for Atom notebook rumors?

Today’s rumors that HP is discussing the possibility of using Atom CPUs for notebooks as well as existing netbooks is interesting for two reasons.  Firstly we have not seen the Atom in any laptops with >12″ screens, but secondly and more importantly I think this could be an indicator of confidence in early Windows 7 tests.

We have already seen Windows 7 running on an Asus EEE PC, and early impressions of the next-gen OS have been extremely positive for a stage so early in the pre-release phase.

So what does it mean if HP really is talking to Intel about supplying the Atom for notebooks?

  • Battery life should skyrocket, if the netbook crowd can be used as a benchmark.  My Wind gets over five hours in real-life usage and the only significant additional power drain on a notebook is a larger screen…but they also offer more real-estate for housing a larger battery.  Could full working-day battery operation from a large-screen laptop become a mainstream reality?
  • The concept is good news for organizations with a mobile/flexible-working workforce and a thin-client infrastructure.
  • Many consumers may only need low processing power as we move towards a web-based services computing model (eg. web-mail/photo/music/productivity apps).  They might trade notebook HD movie editing capabilities for longer battery life in real life usage…however this would require a sea change in marketing tecniques where high power specs aim to sell a life-changing experience.  It is probably a ‘Greener’ sell though, which could lead to Atom-based notebooks being more fashionable that more energy-hungry models.

Time will tell if anything comes of this, but when I put together the early Windows 7 success stories with rumors of HP talking to Intel about the Atom then it does all start to come together…in my hopeful mind!

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Jan 2, 2009 Posted by | Analysis, Computing, Hardware, Microsoft | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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