Friday, July 31, 2009

Windows 7 - the little things add up

Back to Microsoft Windows 7, which is still performing better and with fewer problems on my main desktop PC than Vista ever did. (I’m holding my breath.)

In this first in an occasional series of updates on the experience with Win7 Release Candidate 1 (available for another couple of weeks as a free download), I want to take a closer look at the new taskbar, which I mentioned in a previous post. It’s significantly improved.

Under Vista, when you mouse over an icon for a program in which one document is open, you see a thumbnail of the document, but it's really too small to be useful. If multiple documents are open, you see a not very useful stack of thumbnails, with only the top one visible. (Tap the icon and you get a pop-up list of document names.)

Windows 7 improves on this in a few ways. When you mouse over a program with multiple open documents, a row of significantly larger thumbnails appear side by side above the taskbar. You can see enough to, for example, distinguish Outlook Inbox from Outlook Calendar, making it easier and faster to select the document or activity you want.

Furthermore, when you mouse over a thumbnail, the document moves temporarily to the top of the desktop and appears full size. (Microsoft calls this taskbar peek.) So you can easily read or see information without having to switch to a different program or document.

This is a real convenience if, like me, you’re constantly being interrupted in a task and forget information in another open document that you need to complete the job at hand.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Flexible OLED - dream on

Like Baldrick in Blackadder, I’ve come up with a cunning plan – to design the ultimate mobile computing device and win fame and fortune.

What we need is a device for all situations and applications. Laptops? Too big to pull out in an elevator. Smartphones? Screen too small for – well, anything. Netbooks? Is that a netbook in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?

No, we need radically new technology and design.

My idea: a modular device with separate flexible OLED screen (robust, easy to stow), paperback-size (or smaller) CPU/storage unit, keyboard (flexible?), phone with Wi-Fi and small touchscreen, all communicating over Bluetooth, ultra-wideband or whatever.

Just want to make a voice call? Pull out the phone. It communicates with the CPU/storage unit (tucked in pocket or briefcase) to find the number. Need to check your e-mail or make a video call in the back of a cab? Pull the phone (it works as a wireless controller) and screen.

Need to respond at length to an e-mail? Pull the keyboard and screen. And back at the office, all the pieces fit into a docking station. It’s your smartphone, laptop, desktop, netbook – in one. Or four.

We might need to design new apparel to house the gear when you're mobile. And a viable FOLED (see videos re: Sony and Samsung flexible OLED prototypes here and here) is still some years away – despite recent news from the University of Arizona of advances that could hasten commercialization of the technology.

I did say, “like Baldrick in Blackadder.” Those who know the show - possibly the greatest sitcom of all time IMHO - will understand this is not the highest recommendation.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

ViewSonic builds in a PC

ViewSonic, the monitor and TV company, has jumped into the PC business – just when it’s getting really profitable (not). The new VPC100 All-in-One, a 19-inch widescreen LCD monitor with a PC CPU and DVD drive tacked on, is the company’s first crack. It sells for $599. (See the press release here.) I’m reviewing it for Small Business

So far, so good. It sets up easily and looks kind of cool – all sleek and piano black. The monitor (1366x768 pixels, 1000:1 contrast ratio) certainly looks better than my aging Dell screen, but the keyboard and mouse (wired, not wireless) feel a little flimsy, and the sound is barely better than a laptop.

It’s also underpowered, with an Intel Atom N270 (1.6GHz single core) processor running XP. Think of it as a stationary netbook. Who would buy this? Very light users. The style conscious. Someone looking to equip the office nook in their condo kitchen.

Look for my full review in a couple of weeks here.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Windows 7 - Microsoft Gets It Right

Act soon if you want to test drive Windows 7, Release Candidate 1, the almost-final version of Microsoft’s new Windows operating system. The shipping version is due out in October. RC1 will be available as a free download for a couple more weeks. After that, you’ll have to wait until October and pay full price.

Win7 offers no earth-shatteringly new features or functions, but does have a few nice enhancements, such as the improved task bar with its big, pop-up preview windows that go to full-screen when you mouse over them. This is also a smaller, more efficient – installs and starts faster – and less problem prone operating system than Vista.

If you’re fed up with Vista, as I was after months of seemingly insoluble performance problems, you might even want to make the permanent switch to Win7 now. If not, you can set up your system to boot with either Vista or Win7. For a discussion of how, when and why to switch, see this story I wrote recently for SmallBusinessComputing.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Poof! You're an iPhone

Comparisons are odious, but while testing the new HTC Magic smartphone (aka T-Mobile MyTouch 3G) for Wi-Fi Planet recently, it was hard not to think of the Apple iPhone. All the time.

Magic is an iPhone wannabe, with a touchscreen interface you can swipe and flick, just like iPhone. But the HTC phone uses Google’s open source Android mobile operating system and comes preloaded with Google apps (mail, calendar, maps, YouTube, etc.).

My first thought was, why bother? Building a better mousetrap is one thing, building the same mousetrap and just putting a different name on it is another.

Magic is in many respects as good as iPhone, but I couldn’t find a lot about it that is better. It might be a little easier to master typing on its virtual keyboard. How can HTC and T-Mobile hope to overcome the marketing juggernaut that is iPhone? (The same could be said of any iPhone knock-off, of course.)

One thing you can say: the phone is available to any GSM carrier who wants to sell it, not just the anointed one in each market. Magic at least gives consumers in the U.S. a choice of carriers.

Not so in Canada, however, where Magic is available from Rogers, which also sells the iPhone. Why bother indeed?

See my full review of the Magic/myTouch here.