Wednesday 19 June 2013

Windows 7 / Office 365

Faced with the removal of support for Windows XP in 2014, it was finally time to bite the bullet of installing a new laptop using one of Microsoft's 64-bit based operating systems. 

Nothing I've read so far convinced me that an immediate move to Windows 8 would be anything but a major disruption, so I opted for a Windows 7 Pro system with a free copy of Windows 8 to be used later, if needed.

I chose a Toshiba with Intel Core i3/2348M processor, 4 GBytes of RAM, and 500 GBytes SATA disk.  At the level of a system for home or SME office use, this is a good compromise between power and price.  It's not going to be used to play games, but can certainly run all of the necessary office software, BBC iPlayer, browsers and so on. 

Installation was really very straightforward.  A few options - language, etc., account set-up, and we were good to go.  It detected the available wifi networks and all I had to do was select one, enter the password and let Windows know that this was a home network.  The next step was to create Windows Recovery DVDs - 4 in all.  The online manual - accessed with the pre-installed Acrobat Reader - gave the necessary instructions, and I ran the utility with the Verify option set.  This was a good idea - the third disc failed verification and had to be re-done. 

After that, all was very easy.  I downloaded the Chrome browser, as Microsoft's Internet Explorer starts up with all sorts of garish and unwanted stuff, and Bing as a search engine, and then starts leading you off in directions of selecting options.  Not interested.  I thought we were supposed to be offered a choice of browsers when starting a new PC - the EU spent years and untold millions of euros disputing with Microsoft to give us this - but I saw no sign of it. 

Printer set-up was very easy - much better than on the MacBook Pro.  Windows scanned the network and found the two printers (one is a multifunction device).  All of the necessary drivers were available, and the whole task was complete in a few minutes. 

One of the drawbacks of moving from Windows XP is that your much-loved Office 2003 software also becomes redundant.  Fortunately, starting up the one month free trial of Office 365 was easy too.  This gives you the full Home Premium product including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, Publisher, OneNote and crucially - Outlook.   It all hooks up to SkyDrive and a licence allows the software to be used with up to 5 devices.   Not sure that I want all documents on SkyDrive - unlike the option that you can set up for a Google account, Microsoft accounts don't have two factor authentication yet.  But let's see how it goes, and whether it's really useful or not.

Another worry was the white background in Page Layout in Word.  Call me agoraphobic, but it looks as though there's something missing, or the page hasn't rendered fully.  A comforting grey would be much less disturbing and not keep making me think that it's not working properly. The same in PowerPoint - don't like it. Fortunately, there's an option to overcome this problem. Just select File / Account / Office Theme and Dark Gray is your friend.

But, like the move to rented rather than bought software licences, I guess this is something we'll have to just accept, like it or not. 

Summary: highly impressed with the ease of installation of Windows 7 Pro.  This looks a great successor to Windows XP and I feel very confident about using it when I replace my main work PC.  Office 365 - there's lots to explore. Familiarity comes with time and practice.

Friday 15 March 2013

Google changes

Google announced some months ago that its iGoogle service, which gives a customisable home page, will end on 01 November 2013.  As a convenient place to start browsing, iGoogle is hard to beat.  It lets you configure a wide range of widgets that link to data sources such as Google Reader (its RSS aggregation service), individual sites' news feeds, and a whole lot more.  I've also used iGoogle dashboard widgets for webmaster tools to help manage various web sites, but these seem to have been withdrawn - without notice so far as I know.  The tools themselves can still be accessed directly through the webmaster tools home page.

Now there's the announcement that Google Reader itself will be retired on 01 July 2013.  Yes, there are other aggregators such as the excellent Pulse app that runs on the iPad, but the search is now on for replacements for these two Google products that have served so well and looked just as good on PC, Mac and iPad.  My worry is what could happen to other Google products such as Blogger, currently the platform for all of my different blogs.  Could that be heading off into the sunset soon as well?