Friday, September 25, 2009

Windows 7 Kickoff Parties - Free Windows for Hosts, Gifts for Attendees

Windows 7, after many years of discussions,planning, and testing, will be released to the public on October 22. Kickoff parties - house parties - are scheduled all across the country. People have a great incentive to host a party - the host gets a free copy of Windows 7 Ultimate, Signature Edition, and party collectibles that are intended primarily for decoration, like a table centerpiece and such. And guests get stuff too - the first ten attendees at each party get promotional totebags.

But that's just icing on the cake. The cake is Windows 7, the best version of Windows yet. It has all the security of Windows Vista, but more speed than XP.

Windows 7 has better hardware and software compatibility than Vista (which has GREATLY improved over the last several years), but in the event you still have a problem, the business versions of Windows 7 can actually run a program in Windows XP. The program sees Windows XP (real Windows XP, not just a compatibility mode), but you still get the advantages of Windows 7.

Windows 7 still has the Aero interface, which gives you features like translucent title bars, 3D effects, 3D program switcher, and much more, if you want to use them (some don't like Aero - they think it's too flashy, and granted, it does slow the computer down slightly), but Windows 7 has other interface improvements that don't require Aero.

The taskbar (the row at the bottom of the screen) can permanently dock programs you use frequently, just like Macintosh OS X - If the program's not running, just click to start it. You can use gestures for actions - like dragging a window to the top of the screen to make it full-screen, or drag it to the top of the screen to make it half-screen (great for working on two things at once), and if you have two or more displays, you can "throw" a window from one to the other. You know, like they show in movies, but for some reason you couldn't really do.

Media features are greatly expanded. You've been able to share media with others, but now, with supported devices, you can select something on your computer, say a slideshow, video, or music, and have it play on another device, say a networked media player that's connected to a TV, or a digital picture frame.

For instance, you can have a digital picture frame on the living room mantle, send a slideshow to it and tell the frame to play the show, all from your computer. That way, you don't have to manually load the pictures on a flash card, take it to the, say, living room, plug it in, and tell the frame to start playing. Now, when you have new pictures on your camera and transfer them to the computer, you can update the picture frame at the same time and have it immediately start showing the new pictures.

If you have a stereo (or a media player connected to it) that can access network music, you can tell it to start playing some new music you just bought. After all, the stereo sounds better than your computer speakers.

You can record TV on your computer, like a digital video recorder you could lease from your cable company, only without the monthly fee (your computer will need a TV tuner device that you can buy at any computer store). You could do that with Vista. But now, you can get a device that uses a CableCard (which some TVs and most cable boxes use) and you can watch (and record) the premium channels that you needed the cable box for before. With Vista, you had to special-order the entire computer to be able to do that; now you can just get a USB (plug-in) device. And devices will be available in a few months that can record - in high-definition - four different channels at a time.

And on modern computers, Windows 7 is much faster than Windows Vista, and depending on exactly what you're doing, it's frequently faster than XP. Windows 7 will run well on computers that Vista wouldn't even run on. I've installed it myself on an old (about eight years old) computer that I got as soon as XP came out. And guess what? Windows 7 runs just fine on it, albeit a little slowly. But XP was also a little slow on it as well...

I'm very much looking forward to Windows 7 being readily available. I'm looking forward to the speed. I'm looking forward to the features. And I'm looking forward to the party.

Friday, September 18, 2009

If only I had the money... 13" ultra-portable looks great

ASUS has just put out a new "ultra-portable", that is, something between a netbook and a full laptop, that looks great. If only I had $800 to spare, I'd really be tempted. (Right now, that $800 goes to the house payment...)

Basically, what it comes down to for non-techies, is that it is priced closer to a netbook, and has battery life closer to a netbook (and better than many). But it is as fast as many current-generation laptops. As one example, it can handle 720p HD video, which most netbooks can't handle.

Specifically, netbooks generally have an Atom processor and 1GB of memory. But this has a version of the Core 2 Duo instead, with 4GB of DDR3 (newer and faster) memory.

As a bonus, this comes with Vista Premium, while netbooks only have seven-year-old XP or Linux, a non-Windows operating system that you have to totally relearn, because they can't handle Vista, which this handles quite well. And this comes with a free upgrade to Windows 7 when that comes out next month, which will increase its performance significantly.

More details, for those so minded:

HotHardware just reviewed this unit, and tested it against units that cost a lot more; the Dell Studio XPS 13 was the only one that beat it in all performance tests, but that costs 50% more (almost $1200 for a 500GB drive and LED-lit screen vs the ASUS for $799 that incudes both standard) and has less than half the battery life (2:23 vs 4:53). It's advertised by ASUS to have 12 hours battery life, but that's probably sitting idle; the testing was done with a bright display and WiFi on (includes Wireless N on-board, and Bluetooth). It's also lighter - 3.7lb vs 4.9lb). And much cooler, thermally-speaking - a regular Core 2 Duo may be faster than the ultra-low voltage version this uses, but it's also a lot hotter. That means it's harder on the legs if it's really used as a laptop.

And, nice to my preference, this one has a wider screen - 1366x768 vs 1280x800); it trades 32 pixels in height for 85 pixels of width. The reviewer didn't like the glossy screen, but I do. It may be a "fingerprint magnet", but a piece of microfiber cloth will clean that up easily enough. Glossy means deeper blacks, though it also means you may get more glare. It's a matter of preference. It's not the 1920x1200 I had on a 15.4" Dell I used to have, but it's better than most. And it also costs half the $1400 that the Dell cost ...and this one is also much faster, has four times the memory, and a larger hard drive... If only I had $800 to spare...