Monthly Archives: May 2009

Windows 7 Starter – No more three app limitation

There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the Windows 7 Starter edition for a while now. Much of the concern focusing on the operating systems ability to only run three concurrent applications. Because of what seems to be an strong outcry against the limitation regardless there has been clear evidence of how it actually works (the app limit does not affect background processes such as anti-virus applications, wireless and Bluetooth, and system tools like Explorer and Control Panel), Microsoft announced that they have removed the limitation:

There of course will also be Windows 7 Starter edition, but based on the feedback we’ve received from partners and customers asking us to enable a richer small notebook PC experience with Windows 7 Starter, we’ve decided to make some changes compared to previous Starter editions.

For the first time, we will be making Windows 7 Starter available worldwide on small notebook PCs. We are also going to enable Windows 7 Starter customers the ability to run as many applications simultaneously as they would like, instead of being constricted to the 3 application limit that the previous Starter editions included.

We believe these changes will make Windows 7 Starter an even more attractive option for customers who want a small notebook PC for very basic tasks, like browsing the web, checking email and personal productivity.

Read the entire article here

Considering that Netbooks or small notebooks, which Windows 7 Starter specifically targets are becoming more powerful, the decision is the right choice I believe. Then again the limitation concerns came across as a bit overblown, especially after reading experiences with the OS by journalist such as Ed Bott who thoroughly tested the capabilities and presumed limitations. I am still concerned though by some of the other limitations the OS includes mentioned in the article:

"Personalization features for changing desktop backgrounds, window colors, or sound schemes" 

I think that’s a rather weird decision that really shows a lack in understanding of what devices are to people these days. I can customize the wallpaper on a US $33 cellular phone, but I can’t on a US $300 Netbook? That’s a decision the Windows Team needs to seriously reconsider. I personally am a aesthetics nut and I find the Aero Basic theme in Vista and Windows 7 distasteful, I was hoping Microsoft would improve this theme, in fact it has even taken a step back in Windows 7 based on my experiences using it for more than a couple of months. 

Microsoft first introduced the Starter Edition of Windows with the release of the Windows XP operating system back in 2004, restricting it specifically to certain developing and emerging markets such as Russia, Africa and parts of Asia. The product sku under Windows XP and Vista were preloaded on new systems. Windows Starter edition includes restrictions such as being 32 bit only, support only for Intel Celeron, Atom and AMD Sempron processors. Windows 7 is expected to continue that trend with support for mainstream markets such as the USA, especially for the currently popular Netbook and small notebook form factors. Microsoft does note that all Windows 7 SKU’s will support Netbooks. Microsoft at the Professional Developers Conference 2008 displayed a Netbook running the Windows 7 Ultimate SKU with Aero Glass graphics.

Resources:

Windows 7 Starter Edition – Its not so bad after all

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Lessons learned from installing Windows 7, over 16 times

and I thought I was a Windows Enthusiast. Ryan Rhea, of NeoWin, talks about his experiences installing Windows 7 on a variety of PC form factors with different system specifications. The information is very detailed and gives users a good idea of how well engineered this release of Windows is.

"What have I learned from these installation adventures? I’ve learned that Microsoft has produced their most stable, reliable & speedy codebase to date. PC’s that struggled just to run Vista’s basic functions, now can run Windows 7 with all of its features (including Aero). By creating an OS that scales remarkably well, Microsoft has not left the owners of older PC’s out in the cold."

Read the entire article here

 

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Using and benefiting from Virtual Windows XP

Compatibility is always a sensitive issue when it comes to a new version of Windows. Microsoft takes it very seriously and considers it a hallmark of the Windows platform, making it easy for users to transition to a new release with little or no hiccups. With the release of Windows XP, Microsoft introduced Compatibility Mode, which let older applications run on the OS emulating supported versions of Windows with the ability to save settings so that your applications will start in the correct mode every time. Compatibility Mode worked in some cases and others it did not.

Note: Some of the illustrations are not available in this article, I have been trying for the last three days to publish it from Live Writer, but some issues with a few images are preventing me, so I omitted them.

Windows Vista’s compatibility story was a tough one, simply because of the fundamental changes that were made to enhance the system’s security foundations. This ultimately affected how older applications would function, because many older applications were written with the intention of running under Administrative privileges. Meaning, some applications were designed to write to parts of the system that were considered vulnerable to attack and malicious activity. It is a beneficial change that has greatly helped the security initiative in Windows. Windows Vista’s kernel version change also affected how certain applications tried to install on the system, since applications were hard coded to check for a specific version of Windows.

Microsoft’s solution to Vista’s compatibility woes included the Virtual PC 2007 utility which allowed Windows customers to run a virtualized copy of Windows XP or 2000 and still run their legacy applications in a suitable environment while transitioning to the latest version of Windows. Although it was a solution it required a costly overhead in resources while being a cumbersome experience of having to switch between the host operating system (Vista) and the guest operating system (XP or 2000). With Windows 7, Microsoft is offering an improved approach, which is built upon the fundamentals of Virtual PC and utilizing the compatibility benefits of Windows XP Professional SP3 to help transition to Windows 7 smoothly. In this article, I want to take a look at how I am using Windows Virtual PC with Windows XP Mode to still utilize legacy applications that I enjoy using and still benefit from. I will be taking a look at starting Virtual PC, installing an application and publishing it.

In Windows 7 itself, the Compatibility process is handled through a number of avenues, which include the Windows Upgrade Advisor and Application Compatibility Toolkit (ACT) to help customers assess application compatibility. For untested or in-house developed applications, Windows 7 provides a number of in-box compatibility aids. For example, if an application fails to install because of a hard-coded version check, the Program Compatibility Trouble-shooter can automatically fix the problem (with the users consent) and rerun the installer. Windows 7 includes an expanded application shim infrastructure and Problem Steps Recorder that people can use to capture compatibility issues for evaluation by technical experts.

The three applications I will be using for this scenario are:

  • Microsoft PhotoDraw 2000 v2 – a business graphics solution that was released with the 2000 wave of Office products. PhotoDraw provides features for editing images, vector illustrations and creating web graphics. I love this product because of its easy to use interface and plethora of features for creating cards, certificates and stationery.
  • Hallmark Card Studio 1.0 – This is a very old 16-bit product that features a very fun interface with a collection of professional greeting cards for any occasion. I never had to go to a store when I was using this program – lets hope it works. 🙂
  • The Print Shop 5.0 Premier Edition – I remember back in high school my teacher used this program to create a wide variety of print projects, from programs to flyers. I like its easy to use interface, and wizard based approach to getting task done. Its not a replacement for Microsoft Publisher which I use for more complex projects, but compliments it very well.

Microsoft Clubhouse member Auri Rahimzadeh recently wrote an in depth article about installing and configuring Windows Virtual XP Mode, check it out here

Starting and using Virtual XP in Windows 7 64 bit (click to enlarge)

As you can see, Virtual Windows XP includes a pre-configured copy of Windows XP Professional SP3 that is ready to be used out of the box. Microsoft has confirmed that only Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate are the only editions that will support this utility. The program requires that your computers CPU (Central Processing Unit) supports hardware based virtualization (AMD-V or Intel’s VT technology). Configuring the system for this feature might be a bit technical for some persons requiring that you enter the computers BIOS to setup (which is what I had to do). Virtual Windows XP works similar to Virtual PC 2007.  The virtual system is allotted 256 MBs of RAM. One of the immediate differences though is the toolbar menu that provides options for utilizing USB devices, viewing full screen mode and enabling integration features which is used for virtualizing your applications.

Installing applications and publishing

Installation of PhotoDraw 2000 went smoothly except for a Windows File Protection prompt requesting that I insert my Windows XP Service Pack 3 CD before installation could proceed. This can be quite confusing since you might not have a CD readily available with Service Pack 3, luckily for me, I did.

Installing Microsoft PhotoDraw 2000 v2

Situations like this can leave users perplexed

Installation was successful after providing the Windows XP Professional SP3 CD

Using the application in Virtual Windows XP, is very similar to Virtual PC, but the key differentiation happens when you virtualize your applications. My next step was to see how I could benefit from Integration Features without having to use the operating system layer. When you install an application, automatically it places a shortcut in the Virtual XP programs group called Virtual Windows XP Applications. When you launch the application from there, Virtual Windows XP will request to close the Virtual Machine because a virtual application cannot run while the virtual machine is open. If you close the virtual machine, any unsaved data will be lost. After this is done, Virtual Windows XP starts the Virtual Application which runs outside of the guest operating system. And that’s it, you are able to use the application just as you would a native application installed in Windows 7. The only thing is, you will notice that the application continues to use the guest operating systems look and feel.

If I want, I can use the application in the virtual machine itself

 

…or I can simply use the program as a virtual app from within Windows 7

So after installing PhotoDraw 2000, I decided to run Hallmark Card studio 1.0 to see how that would function. Yup, installed and functioned just fine. Sorry for the bad screenshot, but Hallmark Card Studio is one of those really old mid 90’s programs that believe it should take over your screen whenever it gets the chance.

Installing Legacy applications

Using Virtual applications in Windows 7

About integration components
Integration components make it easier to use a virtual machine by improving the interaction between physical resources and a virtual machine environment. These are installed automatically when you set up Windows XP mode. For other operating systems, you install them separately after you set up the operating system. Integration components provide access to the following resources:

  • Clipboard. You can cut, copy, and paste data between the host operating system and the guest operating system. For example, you can copy a URL from the browser in a guest operating system, and paste it to a browser in the host operating system.
  • Hard drives. This feature makes all the drives on the host available to the virtual machine. You can easily access all host data from within the virtual machine. Note

NOTE: Host hard drives are listed in the guest by using the computer name of the host operating system. For example, on a host computer named WindowTest, the C drive would be listed in the guest operating system as ‘C on WindowsTest‘.

  • Printers. This feature makes it possible to use the same printers in a virtual machine that you can use on the host. To share printers, when Windows XP is the guest operating system, you must also install the printer drivers. For more information, see ―Scenario 2: Print from a virtual machine.
  • USB devices. Printers, storage devices and smart card readers are automatically shared with virtual machines. Other types of supported USB devices are supported by redirecting them to the virtual machine. For more information, see ―To use a USB device in a virtual machine.

Integration components also make it possible for you to move the mouse seamlessly between the desktops of the host operating system and the guest operating system.

Starting a Virtual application

There are some integration issues with the host operating system

 

…giving old applications new life

Integration is also a bit different, instead of files saved to the host OS’s common directories such as Documents, Pictures, they are saved within the Guest installation. Some other things I notice include that Virtual applications do not benefit from window management functionality in the host OS such as thumbnail previews. Apart from these inconsistence’s, the application continues to function just as normal. I can use  the application without any problems while utilizing the benefits of Windows 7 which is probably the best thing about it. The other cool feature is not having to interact with the operating system layer, just being able to use the application is a great benefit. When you close a virtual machine, it can be hibernated, shut down, or turned off. When a virtual machine is opened from hibernation, it does not go through the boot sequence, so it is available for use faster than if it was turned off or shut down.

 

The Virtual Machine folder for configuring and creating Virtual machines

You are not limited to using Windows Virtual XP, (although its recommended), you can use your own Windows XP installation media. The Virtual XP option is faster than creating your own virtual machine though. When you use this option, you do not have to obtain installation media. All you need to do is download the package that applies to your Windows 7 platform (either 32-bit or 64-bit) and run through the quick setup wizard. Depending on the amount of legacy applications you plan to run, you might want to configure the virtual machines memory settings to accommodate more programs and performance of the Virtual Machine itself. To do this, Open the Virtual Machines folder from the Start menu, click Virtual Machines. If the menu item is not visible, click All Programs, click Windows Virtual PC, and then click Virtual Machines. The Virtual Machines folder provides details about all the virtual machines created by the current user, as well as access to the tools for creating and modifying virtual machines and virtual hard disks.

Conclusion

Virtual XP is probably the solution a lot of users have been looking for, the seamless experience it provides users running legacy applications along side Windows 7 makes the compatibility story a better one. There is a level of complexity involved and at the same time I am disappointed to know this is only an option for certain Windows 7 SKU’s. Also, the system requirements still exist, a machine with a minimum 2 GBs of RAM is required, more recommended. Knowing if your computers processor supports hardware based virtualization might make it a hindrance to adoption.  Users must also remember that they are running another computer, which require maintenance just as the physical machine, which includes installing an Antivirus and keeping it up to date along with keeping the OS updated too. I wish the coherence could be a bit more detailed where UI is concerned, such as making the windows of Virtual Applications adapt the Aero Glass window frames, just to match the look and feel of Windows 7. The ability to install legacy applications out of the Virtual Machine would have been option I would like to see. Its a minor complaint considering the boost it gives users to breath new new life into old applications while moving forward with the benefits of Windows 7.

Resources: 

 

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Free Windows 7 eLearning content

Get up to speed on your Windows 7 skills, Microsoft has released some free eLearning content just for you:

Microsoft Learning has just launched some free Windows 7 training content – three free eLearning Clinics. Specifically targeted at audiences : Consumers, IT Professionals and Information Workers

What’s New in Windows 7 for Consumers (1 Hour)
What’s New in Windows 7 for IT Professionals (2 Hours)
What’s New in Windows 7 for Information Workers (2 Hours)

There are also sample book chapters from upcoming MS Press books and other resources (like Learning Snacks and some chapters from the Windows 7 Resource Kit) available on http://www.microsoft.com/learning/windows-7/default.mspx

Source: Nathan Mercer’s blog

 

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Office 2010 Leak hits the Street

It was only a matter of time! Microsoft Office 2010 32 and 64 bit Technical Preview have found its way on the Internet and its already downloaded and installed by some persons who are showing off some of the new UI goodness the suite has embraced. What’s particularly interesting is the strong use of the Windows Aero visuals in Office 2010 applications. Programs such as Word, Excel and Outlook feature a stronger degree of semi-transparency in the Tab menu region. The Office Galleries feature a thinner gradient similar to Windows applications that have embraced the Ribbon (Paint and WordPad).

Microsoft Word 2010 interface

Microsoft Office options

More applications in the Office family have embraced Office Fluent, program such as Visio, Publisher, Project, InfoPath now use the ribbon. I noticed in a screen of the Office 2010 programs group at Arstechnica, InfoPath has two family of applications (Designer and Editor) which Groove has dropped its name to SharePoint Workspace to reflect its tighter integration with the Team Site server software. There is also heavy use of branding color with File menus and application options featuring their respective colors. There seems to be some heavy changes to the Options area of the applications though which likely focuses on better accessibility and maintenance of the suite. Office 2010 overall does not look like a drastic departure at this stage, but its still early days and a lot can change between now and RTM. Considering that Office 12 alpha (which eventually became Office 2007) used a totally different UI compared to what showed up at beta 2. Microsoft has promised that Office 2010 will support Windows XP x86 (SP3) and x64, Windows Vista and Windows 7.

Resources

Office 2010 Technical Preview Screenshots
Microsoft Office 2010 Technical Preview Registration
Office 2010 Team Blog now up

Related

New User Experience Improvements coming in Office 2010
Screenshot of Microsoft Office Outlook 2010
Office ‘14’ branded Office 2010, Exchange 2010 BETA expected Wednesday
Its official – Office ‘14’ will be available in both 32 and 64 bit
Microsoft Office ‘14’ to include native 64-bit support?
Office 14 – Finally! Anytime Upgrade, Portable Office?
Confirmed: Office 14 will support Windows XP
Ballmer: Office 14 not this year
Just a Note: A small change I noticed in Microsoft Word 14

 

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My Favorite Application I cannot do without? Hmmm

This is a difficult question simply because of the richness of the Windows Ecosystem. I run a variety of applications on Windows that I use almost everyday, whether its Microsoft Word, Microsoft PhotoDraw 2000 V2, Internet Explorer 8, Microsoft Outlook 2007 and Windows Media Player 11. But when I try to think about it from a fundamental point of view, some of those applications I mentioned are not detrimental, because they are available on the majority of PC’s that run Windows. So, what is that one app I just cannot do without? The app that triggers some weird paranoia, anxiety moments if I don’t have access to it on a daily basis? I thought about this carefully and looked at my usage patterns and management of the application itself. So, I would conclude that Windows Live Messenger is my must have, can’t do without, can’t cope without it application of them all.

Why is it so important to me?

Windows Live Messenger to me is my line of communication, just like my cellular phone, I am able to stay in touch with many friends and family. Windows Live Messenger goes beyond the traditional PC, just the other night, I saw my brother come online and I we started a chat session. I broke the ice, saying, ‘you are up rather late tonight’, he replied, ‘I’m at work’. I asked ‘where’, he said at a ‘Cell’ tower. ‘So late?’ and ‘how are you getting Net access?’ I asked. He said from his Blackberry phone (he works for a Cellular carrier, so he is on stand by 24 hours). This particular scenario for me shows how powerful and connected Windows Live Messenger is, not necessarily the connection which could be EDGE or 3G, but the anytime, anywhere, almost any device experience Windows Live Messenger provides. In addition to being a connected platform, I have formed some life long friendships through Messenger over the years, to the point I have gotten the chance to meet persons face to face I got to know through Windows Live Messenger. One of the things I have discovered that others have agreed with is the ice breaker experience it provides. Being able to get to know persons over a long period of time from around the world establishes a trust and comfort when that opportunity arrives to actually meet in person. I remember traveling abroad and my only form of contact was through Windows Live Messenger being able to utilize features such as voice and video allowed me see my family and them to see me – all with the help of a free Wi-Fi connection.

How long have I been using Windows Live Messenger?

My first experience with Instant Messaging was MSN Messenger 2.2 that came with Windows Millennium Edition back in 2000. I was a bit scared at first, since it was a new experience for me, but I adjusted quite fast to this new way of communication when I discovered a few friends from high school were also using the service. I have upgraded to every version ever since and have enjoyed the fast pace level of innovation the platform has delivered with each release along with the opportunities to know so many wonderful persons and cultures from around the world. Here is a list of some the countries I have gotten to know people from:

Australia, Trinidad & Tobago, St. Kitts and Nevis, USA, France, Germany, Pakistan, United Kingdom, China, India (and many others I am sure I can’t remember). Its quite amazing when you can say, ‘ I know a person or two from these fascinating lands and one of the engaging experiences that makes Windows Live Messenger such a worthy and powerful application/service for me.

Yahoo! Messenger

Every now and then I try out Yahoo! Messenger, Windows Live Messenger’s main rival in the IM field, but I have discovered quickly that I know limited group of contacts who use the service. In fact, the majority of my 313 Windows Live Messenger contacts are mostly Hotmail, MSN or Live members. With the release of Windows Live Messenger 8.1, Microsoft in partnership with Yahoo! integrated support for Live Messenger users to communicate with Yahoo! Messenger users on their respective services. Apart from being able to chat with Yahoo! contacts, Windows Live Messenger delivers some unique enhancements that makes it the best platform for instant Messaging, features such as photo-sharing, personalized theming capabilities, integration with Windows Live products and services, ability to sign into multiple locations and devices make it best choice for me and the must have application on all the computers I use.

Resources

Instant and Social Communication with Windows Live Messenger 9

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Distinctive Windows 7 Branding

I recently talked about the changes in branding art the Windows 7 Product Boxes might be using. Now Microsoft Enthusiast website, Redmond Pie has discovered additional branding images related to Windows 7 with key emphasis on the numeral ‘7’ from Chinese technology website PCBeta. The beauty of this ‘7’ is very refreshing with its natural styling and soft blending with touches of linear lighting. Lets take a look:

Stylish Windows ‘7’ brand

The logo also gives a hint that previous branding particularly on the Windows 7 Anytime Upgrade could be a work in progress. I am not one for rumors and speculations, but when it comes graphics, artwork and branding, I cannot and will not resist. 🙂 I love what the folks on the Windows UX team or whoever they are in marketing are doing. Windows Enthusiast Long Zheng provided some details on the number itself:

In the spirit of hitting two birds with one stone however, not only is the box art now confirmed but the official Windows 7 mark or logo is also revealed and confirmed to be an artistic-variant of the Arabic numeral “7″ with a not-so-subtle lens flare effect. The internet will now judge.

Learn more here

Resources

Windows 7 Product boxes: Simple, Elegant and Informative

 

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