Posting frequency

If you have been here before, you may have noticed my posting frequency has gone down recently. Part of the reason for this is my taking on two big Vista-related issues that have attracted a lot of attention and wading through the various articles on the web has taken a lot of time. Finding out as much as possible about Vista licensing was certainly a challenge, thanks in no small part to Microsoft’s legalese, but it has been the DRM/HDCP issue that has really swallowed time on me; a passion-stirring topic that raises tempers is almost guaranteed to generate much discussion. Add to this the need to take care when considering such an impassioned subject and time really does fly by…

Addressing contentious issues that attract comments taking each which view has got me thinking about my blogging habits, particularly given that blogging is a hobby of mine and I have plenty of other things to be doing. As result, the post rate slowed down. If I wanted to continue like that, I could post more detailed entries once or twice a week and leave it at that. Or I could keep things short and frequent, say one post per day. Another idea is to have one long entry per week and shorter ones one per day for other days in the week. Now, that sounds like a good way to go.

Buying OEM Vista?

A few days ago, I mused over buying OEM Vista if/when the time came for me to do upgrade. Then, I came to the conclusion that OEM was a no-no unless you bought it installed on a system. In an article on the PC Magazine website, things seem not to be as cut and dried as that. Apparently, the perceived wisdom is that if you are building a system for yourself and you agree to provide all support as the system builder to yourself as the system user, then everything is OK under the licence. Also, there seems to be a trend among resellers that it is not them who are subject to the terms of the licence but the customers who purchase the OEM software. It is all just a little bit confusing. Draw your own conclusions…

Vista is coming…

2007-01-30 (next Tuesday) is given as the date for Windows Vista’s launch to the wider world. It’s an expensive beast so I think that I’ll wait for a while and take the plunge when all the hype has died down. When compared with retail prices, it seems that a TechNet Plus subscription would be a good move, particularly as it would be useful to have an awareness of up and coming Microsoft Technology for my work. However, what looks really tempting is the OEM option. There are caveats with this, especially since Microsoft changed the licensing arrangements so that OEM Windows should only be bought installed on a complete PC. This has always been the case with its server and office software but buying a component such as a CPU or hard drive once was sufficient for OEM Windows. I suppose that I’ll keep waiting then…

Office 2007 on test…

With its imminent launch and having had a quick at one of its beta releases, I decided to give Office 2007 a longer look after it reached its final guise. This is courtesy of the demonstration version that can be downloaded from Microsoft’s website; I snagged Office Standard which contains Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook. Very generously, the trial version that I am using gives me until the end of March to come to my final decision.

And what are my impressions? Outlook, the application from the suite that I most use, has changed dramatically since Outlook 2002, the version that I have been using. Unless you open up an email in full screen mode, the ribbon interface so prevalent in other members of the Office family doesn’t make much of an appearance here. The three-paned interface taken forward from Outlook 2003 is easy to get around. I especially like the ability to collapse/expand a list of emails from a particular sender: it really cuts down on clutter. The ZoneAlarm anti-spam plug-in on my system was accepted without any complaint as were all of my PST files. One thing that needed redoing was the IMAP connection to my FastMail webmail account but that was driven more by Outlook warning messages than by necessity from a user experience point of view. I have still to get my Hotmail account going but I lost that connection when still using Outlook 2002 and after I upgraded to IE7.

What do I make of the ribbon interface? As I have said above, Outlook is not pervaded by the new interface paradigm until you open up an email. Nevertheless, I have had a short encounter with Word 2007 and am convinced that the new interface works well. It didn’t take me long to find my way around at all. In fact, I think that they have made a great job of the new main menu triggered by the Office Button (as Microsoft call it) and got all sorts of things in there; the list includes Word options, expanded options for saving files (including the new docx file format, of course, but the doc format has not been discarded either) and a publishing capability that includes popular blogs (WordPress.com, for instance) together with document management servers. Additionally, the new zoom control on the bottom right-hand corner is much nicer than the old drop down menu. As regards the “ribbon”, this is an extension of the tabbed interfaces seen in other applications like Adobe HomeSite and Adobe Dreamweaver, the difference being that the tabs are only place where any function is found because there is no menu back up. There is an Add-ins tab that captures plug-ins to things like Adobe Distiller for PDF creation. Macromedia in its pre-Adobe days offered FlashPaper for doing the same thing and this seems to function without a hitch in Word 2007. Right-clicking on any word in your document not only gives you suggested corrections to misspellings but also synonyms (no more Shift-F7 for the thesaurus, though it is still there is you need it) and enhanced on-the-spot formatting options. A miniature formatting menu even appears beside the expected context menu; I must admit that I found that a little annoying at the beginning but I suppose that I will learn to get used to it.

My use of Outlook and Word will continue, the latter’s blogging feature is very nice, but I haven’t had reason to look at Excel or PowerPoint in detail thus far. From what I have seen, the ribbon interface pervades in those applications too. Even so, my impressions the latest Office are very favourable. The interface overhaul may be radical but it does work. Their changing the file formats is a more subtle change but it does mean that users of previous Office versions will need the converter tool in order for document sharing to continue. Office 97 was the last time when we had to cope with that and it didn’t seem to cause the world to grind to a halt.

Will I upgrade? I have to say that it is very likely given what is available in Office Home and Student edition. That version misses out on having Outlook but the prices mean that even buying Outlook standalone to compliment what it offers remains a sensible financial option. Taking a look at the retail prices on dabs.com confirms the point:

Office Home and Student Edition: £94.61

Office Standard Edition: £285.50

Office Standard Edition Upgrade: £175.96

Outlook 2007: £77.98

Having full version software for the price of an upgrade sounds good to me and it is likely to be the route that I take, if I replace the Office XP Standard Edition installation that has been my mainstay over the last few years. Having been on a Windows 95 > Windows 98 > Windows 98 SE > Windows ME upgrade treadmill and endured the hell raised when reinstallation becomes unavoidable, the full product approach to getting the latest software appeals to me over the upgrade pathway. In fact, I bought Windows XP Professional as the full product in order to start afresh after moving on from Windows 9x.