January 11, 2006

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Vista time!
Or something more sensible
By John ďjaQĒ Andrews† jandrews@hippopress.com

The long national nightmare is over. After innumerable delays and changes in direction, Windows Vista is finally ready to ship to consumers at the end of this month.

Already shipped to computer manufacturers and some volume license customers, Vista is the first operating system from Microsoft in five years. Yes, XP has been around since 2001; if it hasnít seemed that long, itís probably because XP is genuinely more stable and usable than previous versions, which only promised perfect stability. It also got frequent updates that actually mattered, from security features and spyware removal tools to good device support.

So why upgrade? Good question. Internet Explorer 7, with popup blocking and tabbed browsing, was released for XP. The new file system originally planned for Vista was scrapped. And you need a fairly new PC to fully take advantage of all Vistaís features: 1GB of RAM, 15GB of free hard drive space, a DVD drive and 128MB of graphics memory.

The most visible changes from XP to Vista are the user interface and the search feature. The new interface is the main reason for the graphics memory requirement and adds 3D and transparency features. Thatís right, when you stack windows on top of windows, you can look at the stack from several views, and even look through some! The mind truly boggles.

The improved search feature is touted to be faster ó in fact, itís called Instant Search. Hard drive contents are indexed constantly, so a search is looking through that index rather than the actual file system. Itís also looking at more file attributes, like keywords you assign to them. You can even save your searches for later use.

If all this sounds like thin excuse for spending hundreds of dollars on an operating system upgrade, consider that you get better security and file sharing capabilities. Supposedly.

Or, consider something else entirely. If you really want a new operating system, there are plenty of options out there for experimentation. And theyíre free.

Yeah, Iím talkiní Ďbout Linux. I know what youíre thinking: no applications, spotty hardware support and lots of command-line typing. I canít honestly tell you that Linux is free of these disadvantages, but itís easier than ever to try out Linux without a lot of pain.

Various Linux distributions have long been available for free download. All you needed was patience and a CD burner and a willingness to futz with your hard driveís partitions. That was too much commitment and risk for some people.

Now, many distributions let you download whatís called a Live CD. Thereís nothing to install ó once you download the operating system and burn it to CD, it runs right from that. In some cases, you can even download to a USB flash drive. Best of all, a few distributions have been made a lot smaller for a quick download.

Take SLAX. Based on the hardcore Linux geekís favorite distro, Slackware, SLAX comes in a few compact sizes. Frodo Edition is 53MB, but itís just a text console. Popcorn Edition is twice the size at 115MB, but includes a graphical user interface, the Firefox browser and AbiWord document editor.

Damn Small Linux packs a graphical desktop, a music player, three browsers, spreadsheet and word processing programs and a bunch more into just 50MB. Like SLAX, it can run from a mini CD or a USB drive.

There are literally too many other options to list here, but try looking at www.livecdlist.com. Or just buy a Mac.


1/4/2007 Google killers?

12/28/2006 Tech that didn't happen
12/21/2006 Do not want
12/14/2006 Meet the new web
12/07/2006 Extreme price shopping
11/30/2006 They want what?
11/23/2006 Zat†zany Zune
11/16/2006 Shop smart
11/9/2006 Your data's new home
11/2/2006 Hotkey heaven
10/26/2006 Computer to go
10/19/2006 Tech news roundup
10/12/2006 A different drummer
10/05/2006 Who needs TiVo?
09/28/2006 Disk drives without disks
09/21/2006 Movies, just click your mouse!
09/14/2006 Laptops for less
09/07/2006 GPS everywhere
08/31/2006 The printer dilemma
08/24/2006 A series of tubes
08/17/2006 More music, more places
08/10/2006 How big is your drive?
08/03/2006 It's a WiFi world
07/27/2006 Fancy a spot of memory?
07/20/2006 Under the sea
07/06/2006 eBaysic training
06/29/2006 You paid money for that?
06/22/2006 Processing ... processing ...
06/15/2006 C:\Run for the border
06/01/2006 The keyboard is mightier
05/25/2006 Geek phone home
05/18/2006 Super highway information
05/11/2006 How to host a site
05/04/2006 If they mated
04/27/2006 Apples to apples
04/20/2006 Flash uber-drives
04/13/2006 Web site, by you
04/06/2006 Ayyy, jaQ's right!
03/30/2006 Choose wirelessly
03/23/2006 Tax programs cometh
03/16/2006 And the Spammie goes to...
03/09/2006 Take in the Vista
03/02/2006 Cheap moviemaking
02/23/2006 Go directly to iJail
02/16/2006 Will you stamp your e-mail?
02/09/2006 War of the machines
02/02/2006 Faster than a speeding packet

01/26/2006†Free software made simple
01/19/2006 The Worst of CES
01/12/2006 Radio you
01/05/2006 Making Movies
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