New Laptop and Windows 7

I just took ownership of a Dell M4400 refurbished laptop. I was excited to bust it out, but my heart sank when I cracked the lid and saw the bezel above the keyboard wasn’t seated. I pushed down and it clicked into place, all but one end. One of the plastic tabs that clicks into a receiving slot on the laptop had broken at some point prior to my taking ownership. I’m surprised Dell didn’t notice this when they were ‘refurbishing’ it. I hopped online with Dell tech support chat and I actually had a rather pleasant experience resolving the issue. It was only a couple moments before I had a live person and only a few more before they told me the part would be here tomorrow. No arm twisting to get them to understand I’m a nerd who is more than capable of installing a plastic bezel. Plus they sent me the OS install disk which I guess I forgot to opt for when I ordered the laptop, gratis. Sweet.

When I picked out the M4400, I specifically opted for one with the eye bleeding resolution of 1920×1080 for it’s 15.4″ screen. I was a tad concerned I maybe had gone too far this time, but it turns out I didn’t have to enable super xtra large blind fonts or anything. Such high resolutions are good for side by side viewing. I think the feature I was most excited about having in a laptop is the back lit keyboard. Even though I’m not a touch typist, I’ve found frequently in the dark I’ve wanted back lighting on my keys so I could find a function key.

The laptop came with Vista 32bit which certainly wouldn’t do. A while back I installed Vista on a machine and reverted back to XP after a few short days. For this machine, I opted to attempt to dual boot Windows Server 2008 64bit and Windows 7 Beta 64bit. I figure 2008 will give me the stripped down performance oriented laptop without the flashy stuff I always turn off. I wanted to also install Windows 7 Beta and see what all the fuss was about. Seems like every tech blog I read is just going ga-ga about it.

That was the plan. In actuality getting Windows Server 2008 to work on the M4400 may not fly in the end. My first stumbling block is a big one. Network connectivity. I can’t seem to get the ethernet connection to work nor the Intel 5300 Wifi. Searching around it looks like I’m not the only one. I found some instructions that claim people have gotten it working, but I am unable to replicate.

No connectivity in 2008 makes the laptop an expensive paper weight these days. I decided to switch gears and install Windows 7. With both Windows 7 and Server 2008, installation has finally become relatively painless. They’ve taken a page from MacOS X and only require a few clicks from the user to get the OS installed. What was really fantastic about Windows 7 is so far all my devices seem to work. Wireless, ethernet, etc. That is a nice treat after wrestling with 2008.

I plan to try to use Windows 7 as my primary OS on the machine. Especially since currently it’s the only OS with connectivity. The first thing that struck me is a new window management feature. The behavior reminds me of a freeware app I’ve used in XP called WinSplit Revolution. In Windows 7 you can drag one window to the left side of the screen and a ghosted window appears to show you how it’s going to snap the size of the window to the left quadrant of the screen if you let go. Same for the right. So it’s easy to get two windows maximized side by side. Hot keys winkey+left arrow, winkey+right arrow makes this a snap!

The other feature I’m on the fence about is the new taskbar. The first thing I do when I get a new XP machine is go into System->Advanced->Performance->Settings and change to adjust for best performance. This turns all the eye candy off and makes the tasbar nice and simple. I also right click on my taskbar, select properties and uncheck group similar icons. I am addicted to having a lot of windows open, and I find grouped windows make finding a particular window more difficult. This may have changed for me in Win7. When I mouse over a set of grouped windows in the taskbar now, I get a nice live preview thumbnail of what’s going on in each of the grouped windows. I can easily click on the large thumbnail of the window I’d like to switch to. I frequently have a number of file explorer windows open and this seems to be making it easy to find the one I want instead of lazily opening yet another explorer window.

Although I haven’t had time to explore this feature more than a cursory check, holly firewall batman. FINALLY a non-neutered firewall that feels first class. When you have a background of using a *nix firewall, like for me, ipfw in FreeBSD, you get quickly frustrated when you find windows barely has a thimble full of those features. Not to mention there isn’t a free firewall on the market I’ve found that will allow you to create a deny all rule and than explicitly allow only certain traffic. Yes I’ve used the ipfw port for windows, but really, why doesn’t something like ipfw exist on windows with a warm fuzzy gui with a price of $0. Well now it seems like it does! Good job Microsoft.

On the other hand, UAC is still there. And although reportedly not as annoying, it still gets in the way.

Guess we’ll see. I haven’t got a lot of experience with Vista, but from listening to the grapevine, Windows 7 might be the real XP upgrade path. Vista may be remembered like Windows ME, a bad memory.

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