Sunday, October 25, 2009

Windows Vs Karmic Koala

2009 has been a good year for operating systems, or at least the past few months have been. Mac's latest operating system, Snow Leopard was released just a couple of months ago and this week two of the best operating system ever devised are released: Windows 7 and Ubuntu's Karmic Koala.

Windows 7

Microsoft's new operating system has a lot to make up for, namely Vista and the lack of a decent Microsoft operating system for almost a decade.

The fact that the most used Microsoft operating system is still Windows XP, which was launched eight years ago, demonstrates just how tough a job selling Windows 7 is going to be for Microsoft, especially after the Vista disaster.

So what's new in Windows 7? Very little compared to Vista, indeed some critics are calling Windows 7, a Vista service pack or update. Certainly Windows 7 is the operating system that Vista should have been and there are some great improvements.

Performance

This is the important improvement for most people. Vista had a tendency to turn their fast PC into a slow coach, making the user experience a frustration for most people. These issues have been fixed in Windows 7 and the operating system is very nippy, even on netbooks. Yes, Windows 7 even works on netbooks, something that Vista could never do.

Windows 7 boots swiftly, the desktop effects work brilliantly, even on a low powered netbook, and the suspend/resume is almost instant. Performance wise, Windows 7 is a joy to use, it is brisk, even with many windows open and even on our netbook we never noticed any lag.

Taskbar

In Windows 7 Microsoft have altered the taskbar, no longer does it display the number of open windows, instead it just displays a single icon for each application, which, when hovered over, displays thumbnails of the open windows. You can also 'pin' applications to the taskbar, similar to the quick launch area of XP and Vista, and they glow a different colour when they have an application window open.

Initially the new taskbar seemed like a great idea, but this quickly becomes annoying when you have two or more firefox or explorer windows open and have to hover over the icon, and then the thumbnail, and then click it the thumbnail just to get the window you wanted; only to have it revert back to the previous window when you didn't click it hard enough or in the right place!

Gadgets and Themes

Windows 7 has gadgets similar to Vista, except they are no longer in a sidebar by default, instead floating on the desktop in a similar way to those on previous versions of Ubuntu.

Windows 7 now also supports themes, something that has been promised since XP. You can now alter your theme and download new themes. There are also country specific themes included, in the UK theme you get desktop backgrounds of places like Stonehenge, Tower Bridge and the White Cliffs of Dover.

Another great feature is the slideshow, which changes your desktop background automatically after a certain period. This is another feature that should have been available years ago, and it is great to be able to choose your own pictures and have the desktop change periodically. Previously third party applications were needed to do this, indeed they still are in Ubuntu.

Program Search

Although introduced in Vista, the program search in the start menu is also worth a mention. After using XP for many years this is a great time saver, simply start typing the name of a program and Windows begins narrowing it down to a few possibilities and then click the program you require. So simple and yet so useful.

Libraries

Libraries are one of the changes that I found annoying at first, but have since found to be quite useful. Windows 7 automatically sorts your files into categories (or Libraries) of Music, Videos, Pictures and Documents.  This makes it much easier to find files, however not so easy when sharing files as it can cause confusion as to actual file locations.

Cost

As usual Windows 7 comes in several varieties, the cheapest home retail version available in the UK is Windows 7 Home Premium. Don't be fooled by the 'Premium' in the title, this is the worst one available, yet it will still set you back about £100. If you want useful things such as the very good backup utility, drive encryption, remote desktop and Windows XP mode (to run your old XP programs), well that costs extra, about £50 extra!

To get all the features of Windows 7, one needs to stump up about £180. 

Karmic Koala

Having used Ubuntu for many years, initially being drawn to it just as something different (it was a long wait from XP to Vista), it has to be said that many of their recent operating systems have been more than a little underwhelming. Indeed the last few appear to have been a step backwards in some cases.

Past disappointment and releasing their new OS at the same time as the top dog, meant that Ubuntu also had something to prove.

Performance

Performance in the last couple of Ubuntu operating systems has also been less than impressive, Intrepid Ibex 8.10 and Jaunty Jackalope 9.04 particularly, displayed degraded performance on laptops that had worked great under Hardy Heron 8.04 and Gutsy Gibbon 7.10.

Karmic Koala 9.10 however is the fastest Ubuntu has been for a while. Boot time is very fast, boot time on this laptop was just under a minute on Gutsy Gibbon 7.10, but it hasn't been near that since. Running 9.10, this laptop boots in around 30 seconds. Suspend/Resume is also much quicker, indeed resume is almost instant, faster even than Windows 7. Shutdown is also super fast.

The desktop effects that worked flawlessly on even low powered laptops in the Hardy Heron 8.04 days, have suffered from inexplicable CPU spikes and lags since, but now seem to be on top form again.

Karmic Koala has made Ubuntu swift again, very similar to Windows 7, but even so it has to be said that Windows 7 is still smoother; the long speed advantage that Ubuntu has had over Windows (and that always amazed Windows users) may finally have ended with Windows 7.

Gadgets and Themes

As usual Ubuntu is far more customisable than Windows, with more gadgets and far more themes than Windows 7 (Ubuntu even has Windows 7 style themes). However it is a shame that Ubuntu's gadgets, or screenlets, are not installed by default, but at least like everything else on Ubuntu, it is easily installed.

Like other versions of Ubuntu, 9.10 offers the ability to change the desktop effects, but again this isn't installed by default, but once installed the user can choose from many, many different effects for closing, opening or minimising windows.

Sadly there is no option for timed desktop background changes like on Windows 7, at least without installing additional software.

Program Search

Arguably the best piece of software on Ubuntu is Gnome-Do, this is like a cross between Windows program search and Google Desktop Search, but better than both. With a simple keyboard combination (Super/Windows Key + Spacebar) a box pops up that can do everything from simply finding a program as you type its name to searching for files, definition of words or even posting to Twitter.

Once again this isn't installed by default but is available to install. Installation is pretty simple however, Ubuntu have replaced the Add/Remove program with Ubuntu Software Store which allows the user to search for software and install it with a single click. Future versions will also allow developers to sell their software via the store but at present only free software is available.

This makes things even easier than before, and with the added bonus of an Installed programs list, it means that Ubuntu users can finally keep track of what is installed and uninstall all those programs that were installed, used once and promptly forgotten all about. A great move by Ubuntu, but something that has been possible in Windows since its earliest days.

Cost

Obviously Ubuntu is free, but to give a basis for comparison it comes in only one variety - Ultimate. Ubuntu Karmic Koala offers encryption options during start up, such as creating an encrypted home partition, Remote Desktop software by default, and simple backup and Windows XP emulators can easily be installed, all for free.

Karmic Koala also offers 2GB of cloud storage with Ubuntu One, again installed by default and also free.

Windows 7 Vs Karmic Koala

Ubuntu's new operating system is its best yet, it is fast, slick, and seems to get Ubuntu back on track, however other than in performance, it differs little from other versions of Ubuntu.

Windows 7 basically is an updated Vista, but it is also arguably Windows best ever operating system. Both Windows 7 and Ubuntu 9.10 offer the best performance and stability yet seen from their respective series, but Windows 7 seems to edge it in terms of speed and stability, having never crashed on our netbook.

The let downs in Windows 7 are the lack of ability to alter or customise the Aero settings, which, although they look great, quickly become boring, and cannot compete with Ubuntu effects like Burn, Paper Airplane or Beam; and the fact that the Home version is lacking some vital components, particularly XP mode, which you'd expect in a £100 OS.

Apple were able to offer their great operating system Snow Leopard for just £29.99, yet Microsoft, who control 90% of the PC market, charge £100 for their bog standard version.


This is a great offering from Ubuntu, but it also has to be said that Windows 7 is also a great operating system and shows that Microsoft have really raised their game, and we have the likes of Ubuntu and Apple to thank for that. However Windows 7 doesn't feel like a complete operating system, and not just because of the things missing from the home version.

Ubuntu 9.10 too feels like it is still unfinished, and doesn't quite feel as polished as Windows 7.

Overall I'd say that Windows 7 just edges it as the best operating system around, but when you take into account the cost to upgrade, the fact that it doesn't include any Office or other useful software for free, Ubuntu 9.10 seems the better option.

Vista has 20% of the desktop market, XP about 70%, so Microsoft is going to have its work cut out tempting those users to upgrade, especially with such steep pricing. These are tough economic times, so forking out around £200 on a new OS and assorted software, or more on a new computer with Windows 7, is likely to be viewed as an unnecessary expense, particularly if their current computer is running fine.

Add to that Ubuntu's excellent Karmic Koala being free, and Microsoft may have shot themselves in the foot yet again with their exorbitant pricing policies.



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Friday, January 16, 2009

Internet Explorer 8

Microsoft disables automatic IE 8 downloads | The Register
Microsoft will cushion you from the Internet Explorer 8 standards mess with software to prevent automatic download of its next browser to your machine.

Ask any web designer what their least favourite browser is and it's a good bet that Internet Explorer will be their reply. It isn't because of some anti-Microsoft sentiment, or because it isn't as cool or as customisable as other browsers, nor even anything to do with page loading speed, but quite simply because it doesn't follow the official W3C web standards. Microsoft acknowledges this problem and since Internet Explorer 6 (IE6) has been working to bring its browser into line with W3C specifications.

The Browser Wars

The browser wars of the 1990s between the now defunct Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer started off this problem, as each browser began following only some standards, or worse, only following their own standards.

Surprisingly, back then it was Microsoft's browser that was the most standards compliant, and Netscape that used its own 'standards'. By the time that IE had won the browser war and was used by 96% of web surfers, it too had moved onto supporting its own proprietary standards. At this point it wasn't too much of a problem, as web designers could simply design for IE, as it was a fairly safe bet that most of the viewers of a website would be using it.

It wasn't all rosy however, the browser war had meant there had been a stagnation in bug fixes and actual development, web designers were stuck designing in lengthy, bloated code as the slicker design method of HTML and CSS didn't work properly with Internet Explorer.

CSS

Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) were meant to make the design process far, far easier and also make the viewing of web pages faster and more aesthetically pleasing. Web pages using CSS load faster, are easier to alter and allow more complicated layouts, but for years after CSS was accepted as a standard, web designers were stuck using the older, more troublesome table based designs.

With the decline of Netscape that preceded its eventual demise, it was clear that Microsoft were in the driving seat of website design. From 2002 many web designers created websites aimed only at IE5.5 and IE6,  by this point IE had become mostly CSS compliant. Anyone attempting to design to official W3C standards, was asking for trouble and many headaches.

Then the second browser war started.

Firefox

Firefox was more standards compliant than IE, which meant that website designers had another browser to consider when designing a website, especially as Firefox became instantly popular and standards compliant websites were back in vogue.

Many designers were therefore creating W3C compliant websites, and uncovering the power of CSS. But upon viewing them in IE, they'd discover things like the double margin bug, three pixel bug, float drop problems and also the fact that IE6 doesn't handle transparent PNGs.

More than a few of them were scratching their heads and wishing 'If only IE were like Firefox!' With the popularity of Firefox soaring, accounting for 21% of the browser market by the end of 2008, it seemed that Microsoft heard.

IE7

There are workarounds and so called hacks to get websites to look in IE6 as they do in Firefox but they were a hassle and meant much fiddling on the part of the designer. Firefox and Apple's Safari were far more forgiving and getting more and more popular with users, in response Microsoft released IE7.

Although still not fully standards complaint, IE7 was the most compliant browser yet and Microsoft promised to go even further with IE8.

IE8

IE8 is fully standards compliant, but after a decade of IE only designs, that may not be a good thing. If your website is fully standards compliant, or was aimed primarily at Firefox but with a few IE hacks, you should be OK, but if it was aimed mainly at IE6, you may have problems. It is certainly worth checking out IE8 to see what your website looks like as you may find, particularly if it is a few years old, that is doesn't look as good as it did.

It seems that Microsoft have delayed IE8 to allow businesses to do precisely this. Microsoft did see this problem coming and have added two viewing modes for IE8, the default mode which is the standards compliant viewing mode and compatibility mode, which allows the user to view the website as if viewing with an older version of IE. Sadly though, few people are switching modes, meaning a lot of websites are not displaying correctly in IE8.

Although this may not be too much of a problem at the moment, especially with Microsoft's delaying the release of the browser, it could become a problem very quickly. Although it was released only two years ago, IE7 accounts for 50% of the browser market,  the previous version, IE6 just 20%.

Two events this year are likely to push the uptake of IE8 to be faster than that of IE7.

The release of Windows 7 later this year, which will most likely ship with IE8 as standard and also the fact that mainstream support for Windows XP ends in April 2009. Those buying a new PC will have the choice of Vista, or Windows 7, both of which will likely have IE8 as their default browser.

If you're not sure what your website will look like, you can use this website to preview your website in IE8 (and other versions of IE) for free. Needless to say the Horizon Web Development website and the Horizon Flash Memory website display perfectly.

Others, aren't so lucky.   



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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Safari BETA for Windows – now working!

Apple have released another update for Safari and this time it works! Again I must say how impressed I am by how it looks, sites seem to look much better in the browser, in much the same way that they do in Firefox on Linux.

I haven't had much time to play with it yet and I am not sure that it could replace Firefox as my default browser but so far I am impressed. The one thing missing that I have noticed straightaway is the lack of a 'New Tab' button. There also doesn't seem to be a way to add more search engines to the search box, such as Amazon, eBay and so forth.

But it is early days yet and this is afterall only a BETA.

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

Apple release Safari 3.0.1 – still not working

I was quite pleased yesterday, I discovered that Apple have released an update for Safari making it Safari 3.0.1. At last I thought, I will be able to use Safari!

I was wrong. Still the same problems persisted, missing text on sites such as BBC News, Amazon, Horizon Web Development and so on. Oddly Horizon Flash Memory is fine, so if I want a new SD card I can use Safari, anything else though and I have to use Firefox.

I am surprised that they have released an update but not sorted out, what must be for most people, the biggest problem with Safari, they can't read the pages.

I hope that they sort it out soon, otherwise this Safari hype could run out of steam and lose all those potential users, myself included.

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Safari BETA for Windows – not working yet

Many designers, be they graphic designers, desktop publishers or web designers have Macs. Not just because they are cooler but also because things seem to just look better on a Mac. I have noticed the same thing with websites viewed on the Mac and as a web designer realised that it may be worth getting one. Well Apple have solved that problem for those web designers who use Windows, with Safari for the PC.

Safari for Windows has been released today and I couldn't resist taking a look, and unfortunately I was disappointed from the off. Firstly I had garbled text. A quick Google, well found nothing as the browser was only released today but I did manage to discover that it was something to do with the font Lucida Grande and that I should uninstall it and then reinstall the one that came with Safari.

Very annoying and I was very close to just removing the browser, but I persevered, I opened my Control Panel, clicked the Fonts folder and deleted both Lucida Grande fonts that I had there. Then I went to the Safari folder (C:\Program Files\Safari\Safari.resources) and copied the two Lucida Grande files there into my Fonts folder and that got it looking normal.

I admit I was impressed with the look and speed of it so I thought I would try another site so just for fun I thought that I would visit the BBC News website and this is what I saw!

Something about cats was all I could gather from that News story, but perhaps it was a one off, so next to the Horizon Web Development site and this:

Oh dear. Trips to Amazon.co.uk and Play.com produced similar results and so in the end I gave up. Not only can I not use this browser for fun but testing web sites in this browser will probably lead me to try and correct problems that don't really exist.

Back to the drawing board for Apple and back to Firefox for me.

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