Windows 7 Release Candidate downloads

Posted in Computers, Windows on May 6th, 2009 by Andy

windows_7_graphicMicrosoft have unleashed the Release Candidate for Windows 7. It’s gratis and valid until the middle of 2010, after which point you’ll have to fork out some hard-earned if you want to keep it.

If you don’t want to download through your browser here’s some direct links for the downloads:

32bit

64bit

There are also a ton of torrents available but be VERY careful with these. Don’t install anything you’ve downloaded by torrent unless you check it against these SHA1 checksums:

32-bit: 7D1F486CA569EFFFFB719CFB48355BB7BF499712

64-bit: FC867FE1AB2E0A9796F9E4D155B44EA6998F4874

Enjoy!

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Twitter through Pidgin

Posted in Computers on April 11th, 2009 by Andy
The Twitgin, clearly a product of mad science.

The Twitgin, clearly a product of mad science.

I love Ubuntu Jaunty’s sexy new notification system. It’s elegant and unobtrusive. So much so that I have decided to let the distracting nonsense de jour, Twitter, loose on my desktop in the hope that the notification system keeps the information flow down to sensible levels. I really don’t want to run a whole separate app just for trialling Twitter, so it’d be nice to integrate it into Pidgin, since that’s exactly the kind of thing Pidgin is for.

Trouble is, Twitter have decreed: “Thou shalt not Twitter through IM!”

Wrong!

All you need is the microblog-purple plugin, and you’re laughing. The devs even have a nice PPA for Ubuntu users. Add that bad boy to your Software Sources and you’ll be kept up with the latest version.  There’s also Mac and Windows versions available on the project’s main page, but obviously those have to be updated manually. Sucks to be on Windows or Mac, huh?

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Windows 7 vs Vista vs Ubuntu

Posted in Computers, Ubuntu, Windows on February 6th, 2009 by Andy

Following on from my review of Windows 7, here’s some interesting benchmarks:

Windows 7 vs Vista vs Ubuntu Benchmarks

Short version: Win 7 beta already outperforms Vista on most  benchmarks except for some types of file transfer.

One thing of note is that both Vista and Win 7 have a relatively large disk footprint, meaning they will both be of limited use on netbooks and laptops fitted with the new solid state drives. I suspect manufacturers will stick to slow and fragile old HDDs for Win 7 netbooks to avoid pricing themselves out of the market. Either that or Microsoft will have to extend XP availability again.

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Windows 7 Review

Posted in Computers, Windows on January 21st, 2009 by Andy

This is me, jumping on the Windows 7 Beta bandwagon:

Room for one more?

Room for one more?

Now, i’ve barely used Vista, and i’ve never installed it. Pretty much all my Windows knowhow is from XP, which is currently pensioned off as a gaming-only OS, while Ubuntu runs my PC on a day-to-day basis. So i’ll be looking at two things:

  1. How does Win 7 stack up against current Linux desktops?
  2. How far have Microsoft come since XP was released?

I installed Win 7 into a Virtualbox OSE virtual machine, using an image hosted on my network storage. Microsoft have been making noises about Win 7 having a lighter footprint than their endomorphic spawnling Vista, so I decided to give the VM 512MB of RAM, 64MB video memory and a 10GB chunk of hard drive space.

MS seem to have tidied their installer up a lot since XP. The partition editor was nice, although no word on whether this will play more nicely with multi-boot systems than previous incarnations. Windows’ habit of overwriting the MBR without asking is a particular pain in the arse on previous versions.

Visually, I like this installer. Plain black, with a pulsating Windows logo.  Nice. It also asks a lot less dumb questions than XP did.  For example, no long do you have to specify you locale, AND your language, AND your keyboard. Instead Win 7 just asks your location and presumably makes an educated guess for the others. In the vast majority of cases this guess would be correct, and the others can correct this after getting to the desktop.

In fact, up until reaching the desktop the overall experience is markedly improved over XP, and on a par with current Linux installers such as Ubuntu’s Ubiquity. Ubiquity asks a few more questions, but they’re good features such as migration of profiles from existing OSes, and the powerful partitioner Gparted is still better than anything Microsoft are offering.

Once into the desktop it’s pretty standard Microsoft stuff. A single panel at the bottom of the screen contains the familiar Windows start menu, task bar and notification area.

Windows 7 quickly identified the first spanner in the works: it had no driver from Virtualbox’s network adaptor. This is familiar territory for anyone who’s installed XP in Virtualbox, but i’m surprised that Microsoft still aren’t including drivers for all the virtualisation suites in the default install. Sure, it’s a Beta, and they may be in the final release, but if anything Betas are more likely to be installed into a VM.

Obviously, the network adaptor is a show-stopper these days, but it was a good chance to see Win 7 handling faults. The failed network kit popped up in the notification area, which offered a diagnostic scan. This correctly identified the lack of a driver as the issue. Overall this was pretty slick, and would have allowed a non-geek user to bottom out the problem easily. Nice work Microsoft.

Also of note is that Win 7 will nag the user to install antivirus, and even lead them straight to the downloads. Unfortunately we’re stuck with IE8 at this early stage. IE has always only been good for downloading a proper browser IMO, and I don’t expect IE8 to break this mold. On first run it spammed a lot of decision boxes about nonsense such as “accelerators” which seemed to be an MS attempt to tie your browser into their web services. Proving once more that Google really has them shitting themselves.

As for the much-blogged-about new UI, I found it poor overall. Their new taskbar makes no differentiation between launchers, shortcuts and running apps. Worse, the bar only shows logos, with no text title unless you mouseover. This is dock-like behaviour, but the difference is that users generally customise their own docks, so know what the various icons are.

The first real app I ran was from a disk image mounted to Win 7’s (virtual) CD drive. Bizarrely, it failed to take focus, and I actually ended up launching it twice, as I hadn’t noticed the icon appear in the taskbar. This is just plain bad UI, especially since the second instance I tried to run threw up an unhelpful “failed to run properly” error message. Notice to MS: if I run an app, I want it to immediately take focus. Who wouldn’t?

The other big dissapointment was the return of something I haven’t seen in a long time on Windows: the Blue Screen of Death. Sadly Win 7 sports the same incredibly unhelpful BSOD page as previous versions of Windows. In the course of installing antivirus, browser and Flash I had two BSODs, which is not good. Some of this may be my fault. Running a beta browser like Chrome on a beta OS like Win 7 is probably asking for trouble.

Rough edges aside, the OS looks like it has promise. The system was reasonably snappy, and the menus and tools, while not overly intuitive in themselves, were similar enough to previous versions to make them fairly straightforward to use. If Microsoft can sort out the stability issues and improve the taskbar it should make a good replacement for XP when it retires in a few years time. Needless to say, a lot of underwhelmed Vista users will look to switch, too.

Personally, however, I was very happy to shut down the VM and get back to Ubuntu. Windows 7 seems like a nicer environment than XP, but it’s still a long, long way behind Gnome and Compiz Fusion.

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