“My” New Work Laptop

new

Don’t get me wrong, I’m pleased as punch to have a new computer at work. Stuck with Windows XP and an Intel Pentium processor for the last decade, I have awakened like Rip Van Winkle to Core i5 and Windows 7. My home computer might be kitted out with the latest Mac OS updates, but at work I use whatever computer the office gives me. Finally the shackles of a hand-me-down work laptop with an aged OS and a dead battery have been removed. On this day of freedom, when I should be saying "wow", I feel that Windows 7, the redeemer of Vista, is not all its cracked up to be and I wonder how a computer called a "notebook" in 2011 can be so thick.

takbar

The new Windows 7 taskbar is stylish, for Windows.

There is some wow factor to Windows 7. The look is great compared to my old Windows XP computer. The new taskbar looks clean, the transparency is awesome, and the window resizing is automagical. Windows 7 also makes work life easier, and kudos to Microsoft for that. Of all the improvements my favorite is the not so cleverly named

Snipping Tool

Snipping Tool , a feature Windows should have had in Windows XP. Connecting to Wifi is much, much easier (although not exactly Mac OS X easy) as is file searching and installing printer drivers. Windows 7 will also attempt to resolve issues liked dropped wifi and USB drive errors for me, although frankly I would prefer the issues not pop-up in the first place. The best feature of Windows 7 can be found in the calculator. The built in date and loan calculators are the office equivalent of finding a basket of candy on Easter morning.

confusing options

As nice as the Snipping Tool and Calculator are in Windows 7 are, Mac OS X on my MacBook, in my opinion, is still better looking, easier to use, and has more tricks. Regardless of personal taste, All of the improvements in Windows 7 really just reminds me of how old my Windows XP computer was. Perhaps that is the point. With the market share Microsoft has, all they need to do for money is make their repeat customers happy.

And jeez, why is so much of what I hate about Windows still there? Why does Microsoft insist up these outdated check box lists for system customization? Look at the folder options. You have to hit Alt-T just to get to the folder options menu and then when you are there, you see a list of near ly meaningless descriptions. The labels on the items in the Control Panel in particular are a mystery wrapped in a riddle and hidden in an enigmatic window. To Microsoft’s credit, I have not yet been blue screened, despite the several application crashes in the last few days. The oddest of oddities occurred when Windows 7 spontaneously dropping all of its fancy Aero effects for no apparent reason. Without Aero Windows 7 is just Windows XP with a clipping tool and a nicer calculator.

control panel confusion

The newest version of Microsoft Office is especially flummoxing. Considering the Windows taskbar is twice as thick as before, the bloated menu bar in Office (dubbed the "Ribbon") is an outright assault on vertical screen space. Here’s a tip to user interface developers, most displays are wide screen now. Seriously, the Office menu bar takes up a fifth of my display. Fortunately I found the option for hiding the Ribbon and moving the menu options options I actually use onto the title bar. I have discovered many user interface fixes since upgrading to Windows 7.

menu mess

I guess I really didn’t need the top fifth of my screen anyway.

menu fix

This is how you do a menu right.

The most surprising aspect of Windows 7 is the awful Start menu and its irregularly arranged cacophony of application shortcuts, file links, and system settings. So far I have failed to find a fix or third party program that will eliminate the Start menu or at least replace it with something useful like a simple search box. On that topic, Windows relies too much on third party programs. The built in webcam and multi-touch trackpad is powered by Dell, display settings are handled by Intel, Roxio handles DVD burning, and I installed CutePDF to natively print PDF files. To put this in perspective, Microsoft has about 60,000 employees and Apple has about 37,000 employees. Yet Microsoft is the company that leaves development of core OS functions to third party developers. Why isn’t Microsoft making the best OS on earth?

The PC hardware, a hulking Dell Latitude notebook, is just as much a step up for hardware as Windows 7 is for software. There are improvements to be sure; it is just as solidly built as my prior hand-me-down IBM Thinkpad and the performance is above average for a business laptop. The Dell sports ports aplenty and even includes a backlit keyboard. (My old Thinkpad had a downward facing light built into the top of the display).

laptop thickness

Perhaps Apple has spoiled me with its unibody MacBook.The bottom portion of the Dell is thicker than my entire Macbook. The Dell unflatteringly bulges from every angle and presents a mess of vents and port openings on all sides.

bezel comparison

The bezel is thick, twice as thick as the bezel on my Macbook. The fan is too loud for a machine with integrated graphics. The multi-touch trackpad is embarrassingly small and unresponsive. Multi-touch technology is over three years old and getting it right should be as easy for Dell now as it was for Apple in 2008. I thought perhaps the Dell laptop was a cheaper model, but a quick check to Dell’s website shows that notwithstanding whatever bulk discount my office received, the spartan Dell is actually more expensive than a comparable Macbook Pro. For that much money, why isn’t the 3rd largest PC maker trying to make the best laptop on earth?

Microsoft and Dell really need to do some proverbial overclocking on their products. The failure of Windows Gadgets is telling. Despite Windows’s huge install base, there are a mere handful of good gadgets. I initially loaded up some Mac OS widgets with Kludgets but opted instead for Yahoo’s cross platform widgets. That bumbling Yahoo’s ancient widget platform has a more lively ecosystem than Microsoft’s gadgets speaks to the failure of Microsoft to inspire software developers. Comparing my work PC to my home Mac again, there is no software on my work PC that is not better on my Mac. Even the lowly calculator is better on the Mac, assuming you prefer having paper tape to a date calculator. As for Dell, they have been on a downward spiral for almost a decade. "Dude, you’re getting a Dell" is becoming the equivalent of Nelson’s “Ha-ha”.

These are all petty complaints. Of course I would rather use a Mac at my office, but the Dell laptop and Windows 7 are fine. At the very least, they are better than the old stuff and I am thankful for that.

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