Consolidation

For a while, the Windows computing side of my life has been spread across far too many versions of the pervasive operating systems with the list including 2000 (desktop and server), XP, 2003 Server, Vista and 7; 9x hasn’t been part of my life for what feels like an age. At home, XP has been the mainstay for my Windows computing needs with Vista Home Premium loaded on my Toshiba laptop. The latter variant came in for more use during that period of home computing “homelessness” and, despite a cacophony of complaints from some, it seemed to work well enough. Since the start of the year, 7 has also been in my sights with beta and release candidate instances in virtual machines leaving me impressed enough to go popping the final version onto both the laptop and in a VM on my main PC. Microsoft finally have got around to checking product keys over the net so that meant a licence purchase for each installation using the same downloaded 32-bit ISO image. 7 still is doing well by me so I am beginning to wonder whether having an XP VM is becoming pointless. The reason for that train of thought is that 7 is becoming the only version that I really need for anything that takes me into the world of Windows.

Work is a different matter with a recent move away from Windows 2000 to Vista heavily reducing my exposure to the venerable old stager (businesses usually take longer to migrate and any good IT manager usually delays any migration by a year anyway). 2000 is sufficiently outmoded by now that even my brother was considering a move to 7 for his work because of al the Office 2007 files that have been coming his way. He may be no technical user but the bad press gained by Vista hasn’t passed him by so a certain wariness is understandable. Saying that, my experiences with Vista haven’t been unpleasant and it always worked well on the laptop and the same also can be said for its corporate desktop counterpart. Much of the noise centered around issues of hardware and software compatibility and that certainly is apparent at work with my having some creases left to straighten.

With all of this general forward heaving, you might think that IE6 would be shuffling its mortal coil by now but a recent check on visitor statistics for this website places it at about 13% share, tantalisingly close to oblivion but still too large to ignore it completely. All in all, it is lingering like that earlier blight of web design, Netscape 4.x. If I was planning a big change to the site design, setting up a Win2K VM would be in order not to completely put off those labouring with the old curmudgeon. For smaller changes, the temptation is not to bother checking but that is questionable when XP is set to live on for a while yet. That came with IE6 and there must be users labouring with the old curmudgeon and that’s ironic with IE8 being available for SP2 since its original launch a while back. Where all this is leading me is towards the idea of waiting for IE6 share to decrease further before tackling any major site changes. After all, I can wait with the general downward trend in market share; there has to be a point when its awkwardness makes it no longer viable to support the thing. That would be a happy day.

Adobe CS3 Tryouts

After what feels like an age, Adobe has finally seen fit to allow you to download tryouts of CS3 components and editions from their website. Bizarrely, they are offering to send you a demo DVD of one of the CS3 Web Premium and Design Premium editions on payment of $9.99; I assumed that this is U.S. only. I am not sure that I have heard of anyone charging for tryouts before, though I do remember Microsoft talking about levying a modest charge for downloading beta versions of the likes of Windows Vista and Office 2007.

More on Office 2007

Today was to have been the last day of my Office 2007 trial but I headed over to Amazon.co.uk at the start of the week to bag both Office Home and Student 2007 and Outlook 2007. Both arrived yesterday and I set to ridding my system of all things Office before adding the new software. So the 2007 trial had to go as did Office XP and any reference to Office 97; Office XP was an upgrade. From this, you might think that I am on a five year upgrade cycle for Office and it certainly does appear that way though Office 95 was the first version that I had on a PC; it came with my then more than acceptable Dell Dimension XPS133 (Pentium 133, 16MB RAM, 1.6GB hard drive… it all looks so historical now).

Returning to the present, the 2007 installations went well and all was well on my system. Curiously, Microsoft seems to label the components of Office Home and Student “non-commercial use”. I accept that the licence is that way inclined but they could be a little more subtle than to go emblazoning the application title bars with the said wording. I suppose that it is minor irritation when you consider that you are allowed a three machine licence for what are the full versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. It must be the presence of OpenOffice on the scene that is inducing such benevolence.

Curiously, Outlook isn’t included in Office Home and Student, hence my getting the full version of the application separately. That means that there is no nefarious wording about the purpose for which it should be used. While on the subject of Outlook, my purge of previous Office versions thankfully didn’t rid my system of the PST files that I was using with Outlook 2007’s predecessors. In fact, the new version just picked up where its predecessors had left off without any further ado. As I have been getting used to the new interface, changed from Outlook 2002 but not as dramatically as the likes of Word, Excel or PowerPoint, there is certain amount of continuation from what has gone before in any case. The three-pane window is new to me as I never encountered Outlook 2003 and that may explain why it look a little time to find a few things. An example is that all calenders appear in the same place when I had expected the association between calenders and their PST files to be retained. Nevertheless, it is not at all a bad way to do things but it does throw you when you first encounter it. Its RSS feed reader is a nice touch as are the translucent pop-ups that appear when a new message arrives; that tells you the title and the sender so you can decide whether to read it without so much as having to look at it and interrupt what you are doing.

In a nutshell, all seems well with Office 2007 on my machine and I am set up go forward without the headache of an upgrade cycle since I have recommenced from a clean slate. I have heard of some problems with Office 2007 on Windows Vista but I am running Windows XP and I have had no problems so far. In fact, I plan to sit out the Vista saga for a while in order to see how things develop and, who knows, I might even not bother with Vista at all and go for Vienna, its replacement due in 2009/2010, since XP support is to continue for good while yet.

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.