One thing I was curious to investigate was whether they’d made any changes to the text to speech functionality and Narrator in Windows 7.
The first problem I ran into was where had they moved the text to speech options. There’s no longer a Text to Speech applet in the Control Panel. If you view the Control Panel by Category you have to first click on the Ease of Access category.
Then you need to select Ease of Access Centre.
You’re then presented with the following confusing dialog, ironically titled Make your computer easier to use.
You need to select Use the computer without a display.
Now click on Set up Text to Speech.
This is the same familiar dialog that’s been around since Windows XP. No changes here and unfortunately it’s now been buried in the most obscure location.
Now there is a quicker way to access the Text to Speech settings dialog but it’s even less intuitive than the above, if that’s possible.
First you will need to switch your Control Panel view from Category to Large icons or Small icons. Then click on the Speech Recognition applet – yes I know speech recognition is the opposite to text to speech, bare with me.
You can see in the left column there is a Text to Speech link, kindly included for wayward travellers. This will bring up the text to speech options. It’s much quicker to access but so unintuitive, you’ll have a hard time remembering it.
Microsoft really need to bring back the Text to Speech applet and display it in the Control Panel when viewing by Large or Small icons. Here’s hoping they add this back in before the final release of Windows 7.
I was also hoping that they would have included a male voice as well as the female voice, Microsoft Anna, that comes with Vista. Many people have complained that they lost the male voice, Microsoft Sam, when moving from XP to Vista, even though Microsoft Anna sounds a lot better than Microsoft Sam. Microsoft, I hope you’re listening.
I have an EeePC 1000H which I use every day on the train. It has a 10″ screen, a full size keyboard, 1GB of RAM and a 160GB hard drive. It’s light, compact, has great battery life and powerful enough to run all my favourite apps. It came with Windows XP. When Microsoft released Windows 7 RC 1 the other day, I decided to repave my EeePC with this shiny new OS.
The first thing I did was upgrade the RAM from 1 to 2 GB. The RAM is very cheap (it cost me AU$70, although I hear you can buy it for around $20 in the US) and the upgrade is simplicity in itself. See this excellent guide for details.
I downloaded Windows 7 RC 1 as soon as it was available to MSDN subscribers. I burnt the ISO image to DVD and then copied the installation files across my home network to the second partition on my EeePC’s hard drive. As the EeePC doesn’t have an optical drive, I wasn’t sure if it would be able to successfully install directly from the DVD drive mounted across the network. I feared it would reboot during the installation and then discover it didn’t have the right network driver and no longer be able to access the installation DVD, In the end I think this was unnecessary as the installation first copies all the necessary files to the hard disk anyway.
I can’t comment too much about the installation process itself. I set it running and then went away and did something else. I’m not sure how long it took but when I returned it had finished and there were no problems. It had all the necessary drivers for my EeePC.
The most pleasant surprise I noticed was that Windows 7 was using the Aero interface. When Vista first came out there was a lot of talk around how everyone would need to upgrade their graphics cards in order to run Aero. Netbooks are not known for their powerful graphics processors and the EeePC is no exception. Not only does Windows 7 default to Aero on my EeePC, it runs like a dream. Everything feels very snappy and all the effects, such as fades and zooms are silky smooth. Gone are the piecemeal window repaints that were so common in XP and previous versions of Windows.
The most obvious change is the enhanced task bar at the bottom of the screen. It’s double the standard height (although you can change it to use small icons), allowing much larger application icons to be displayed. This has allowed Microsoft to cleverly combine quick launch icons and running applications. A running application now appears on the task bar as single, shiny icon. If you’ve pinned the application icon to the task bar permanently (equivalent to adding the application to the quick launch bar), then when you run the application, Windows simply highlights the pinned icon. Hover over the icon and a thumbnail preview of the window is displayed. If the application has multiple windows or tabs, then multiple thumbnails are displayed. This works so well that I never want to go back to the old taskbar.
Windows 7 comes with a number of desktop themes. I noticed that there was even an Australia theme. The Australian theme has a number of stunning wallpaper images, which it seems to cycle through at regular intervals. I’m not sure whether these images ship with Windows 7 or are being downloaded from Microsoft in the background. Either way, they look brilliant.
The nice thing about Windows 7 is that any application that is compatible with Vista is most likely also compatible with Windows 7. All the major architectural changes happened in Vista. Windows 7 is more about refining an existing platform to make it easier to use, faster and much better looking.
To date I’ve installed
- Office 2007
- Visual Studio 2008
- Expression Web
- Adobe Photoshop Elements 3.0
- Google Chrome
All applications run flawlessly. I thought I might have trouble with the oldest application, Adobe Photoshop Elements 3 but it seems fine. Windows 7 did block the installation of an old media driver during its installation but this is most likely a good thing rather than bad.
While talking about application compatibility I should mention that Windows 7 RC1 seems to be very stable. The only problem I’ve had to date is that after it comes out of Standby while plugged into my home network, it seems not to be able to find the network again and requires a restart. This is certainly something I can live with.
Windows 7 RC1 has won me over. That fact that it runs so nicely on my netbook means I’ll have no hesitation in using it for my new desktop PC that I hope to buy in the next month or two. Finally I can move off Windows XP. I won’t be looking back, except to remember that XP has been such a solid workhorse for so many years, too many in fact.
Windows 7 RC1 is now available as a free download from Microsoft at least until the end of June. It’s the Ultimate version which includes goodies such as Media Centre. It’s free to use for a year, after which time you’ll be able to purchase it and upgrade to the final release.
This is possibly the best marketing move Microsoft have made in years. It’s the ultimate free trial period. No one likes to reinstall their OS and applications from scratch. After using the OS for a year, you’re likely to have collected a huge number of applications and configured each to your own needs, making a reinstallation a very onerous task. Most people will likely just pay for a license to save them the hassle. It will be interesting to see if they’ll be forced to buy an Ultimate license of can downgrade it to one of the Business or Home editions? I would like to see Microsoft reward early adopters by allowing them to buy the cheapest Windows 7 license and still retain all the Ultimate functionality.
Windows 7 RC1 is also likely to find its way onto the PC’s of the most influential members of the community – the early adopters, developers, IT journalists and bloggers. The fact that it’s the best Microsoft OS ever, a big step up from Vista and a huge step up from XP is only going to win lots of friends and advocates.
It will be interesting to see if PC resellers start offering Windows 7 RC1 as an option when buying a new PC. I wonder if Microsoft would encourage or discourage this? Given that resellers are no longer forced to sell an OEM version of Windows with every new PC, I don’t see why they couldn’t. The only thing that may stop this being common practice is the fact Microsoft have placed a time limit on how long Windows RC1 will be available for download and activation. This may even prompt a rush of new PC sales before the end of June so that people can run Windows 7 RC1.