Living On The Edge With Windows 7 and Office 2010

In preparation to release of beta of Visual Studio 10 and .Net framework 4 (due out this Tuesday for MSDN and Thursday for general public) I have installed Windows 7 x64 and MS Office 2010 Technical Preview on my Lenovo ThinkPad X61s laptop. It has Core2 Duo L7700 CPU, 3GB RAM and 30GB OCZ SSD hard drive. So far it has been a great mobile workhorse for Windows XP, and since I can’t risk my main workstation’s setup I decided to test the combo on X61s. It still feels a little like living on the edge, even though this isn’t my primary work tool.

First culprit I hit was that Google Chrome wasn’t working under 64-bit Windows 7 version. No matter what I did it was just displaying a blank page. Turns out the issue is already fixed in Developer channel build. For others, adding a –in-process-plugins to a shortcut should do the trick. Alternatively, if other shortcuts are still giving you headaches, here’s the fix I have found (from quite a few sources) to be working:

The registry keys to change:

* HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\Applications\chrome.exe\shell\open\command
* HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\ChromeHTML\shell\open\command
* HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Classes\Applications\chrome.exe\shell\open\command
* HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Classes\ChromeHTML\shell\open\command

Each key needs to be changed from looking like
…\chrome.exe” — “%1″
…\chrome.exe”–in-process-plugins — “%1”

Next stop – Lenovo’s Vista drivers don’t always work for Windows 7, despite Microsoft’s assurances that whatever works in Vista will work in Win7. As of right now the two biggest problems that remain are the power gauge (still shows about an hour of charge right before going to hibernation) and trackpoint driver, that only works in classic Windows applications. Even though the trackpoint works in Firefox, both Safari and Chrome ignore the scrolling feature making the ThinkPad’s trackpoint effectively useless.

Windows XP virtual machine worked fine, although Windows 7 only allocates 256MB of memory for it, which is nearly not enough. Pitching it up to 1024MB made it work just right, although increases the VM’s startup time, if only by half a minute.

Another thing that came as a surprise (since I haven’t used Vista heavily) was that telnet application is missing. For some reason you have to go to Control Panel ->Programs and Features -> Turn Windows Features On and Off and pick Telnet (as well as old trivial FTP, while you’re at it) to get installed. Thankfully, you won’t need an installation DVD for that.

Also, you will have to adjust the CPU’s power settings to make sure your applications as well as virtual environment aren’t bogged down by them. For some unknown reason Win7 sets something around 5% CPU power for laptop running on battery. Therefore – anytime you plan on watching those YouTube videos on the couch the performance would be so low that you will be pushed to fetch that power cord. Alternatively – drum up CPU power in advanced power settings.

Since power setting in Windows 7 are a bit more granular than those you had before, you will have more control over how fast your battery is depleting. Given that, your mileage may and will vary, although I’ve noticed that under WinXP the same battery lasted about an hour longer. My perception is that this is mainly due to me being more active (since I install and tweak stuff heavily rather than use the laptop for average browsing or writing stuff) and that I tend to run screen brighter in Win7 than I did in XP.

One of the parts of Office 2010 that I was mainly interested in is Outlook. So far this is the most valuable tool in the whole suite, since I don’t use Excel macros heavily. I do, however, track a lot of things in Outlook, keep contact information and their history, e-mails, tasks and notes. Additionally, contacts, tasks and notes are easily synchronize with heavily customized Windows Mobile phone that I use. However, much to my disappointment, the only major change in Outlook was the ribbon menu that became even less intuitive and more cryptic. Since this is a Technology Preview version I can’t complain about all the images and icons that are missing, but overall I was definitely struggling to complete tasks I got used to doing in Office 2007. Since I’ve only spent about half a day tweaking things around, I guess I will have to make a separate post about other parts of the Office 2010. So far the IMAP accounts work fine, although I missed the new setting Outlook uses for SMTP server (it’s 587 now). Luckily I noticed it early enough to tweak my server to run exim on port 587. Also, csd+lfd had to be told that it’s okay if someone tries to use this port for inbound connection (outbound was already there). But these are minor nuissances that you only get to encounter once. Oh, and for those of us who were hoping – no, you can’t export e-mail account settings (including username and password) from Outlook 2010. Not in this version anyway.

Subjectively, Win7 x64 “feels” a little more sluggish on this setup that Win7 x86 felt on the same laptop with 120GB WD Scorpio on 5400 RPM. There’s a noticeable “drag” on things, but as I’ve said – this is just my subjective impression. Now I’m just going to wait couple of more days for betas of Visual Studio 10 and .Net 4.0 to see how things will work then.

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Customizing Your Smart Phone – Part 4

Part 4 of Customizing Your Smart Phone series (part 1, part 2, part 3), final installment. This time we are going over the most complicated of the three steps I have mentioned before – installing a customized OS and software package into phone’s permanent memory.

Since phones have two different kinds of non-volatile memory, understanding what goes where is a bit tricky. There’s a part that will hold on to the data even if you do a hard reset. There’s a part that will keep your data if you pull the battery out, but will not survive hard reset or memory clearing operation. And there’s a part that will keep your data only as long as the battery is alive or a power provided. So installing a new OS/software package involves rewriting data in both first and second parts of the memory.

Such packages are called ROMs, and these come in two flavors. Standard ROMs come from either a hardware manufacturer (HTC in our case) or cell phone provider (AT&T). Alternatively (and that’s where the fun begins), they are “cooked” ROMs and these come from “chefs” – those geeky types who just love to tweak their phones beyond comprehension. Cooked ROMs are, generally, created following chefs’ philosophies – that means either stuffing as much as possible into a crumpled phone’s memory or by leaving out as much as humanly possible to free up scarce phone’s resources.

That’s where the tricky part starts. Some cooked ROMs will only work with certain types/versions of radios. That means that you, essentially, have to think the whole process through even before you started (but shouldn’t you always?). Luckily, latest versions of radios generally tend to work with every modern and supported ROM out there, but doing a homework wouldn’t hurt. Once you done browsing through all the feature listings and screen shots, jot down a list of ROMs you tend to like and get going.

Install a HardSPL and the latest available radio. Then download and install each of ROMS on your list for initial testing. Most likely critical bugs will pop out fast that your list would shorten pretty quickly (I had to go through that twice because not a single ROM satisfied my needs, so I’ve got what seems to be the closest match and then went on with customizing it). Some ROMs come so overloaded that it’s almost impossible to get anything done, others quite snappy but lack important features. Once you’ve made your choice – start customizing and testing.

When testing, aside from looking at how glorious your brand new interface looks like, you should also pay attention to:

  • phone reception quality, especially in places where you know services have been exceptionally good or exceptionally bad;
  • battery drain, especially during normal patterns of activity (i.e. if your battery survives longer then usual even though you started to play with your phone more – you’ve made the right choice);
  • GPS reception and time to lock on satellites;
  • overall system responsiveness (does opening browser or bringing up the phone takes longer or shorter, comparing to what you feel comfortable);
  • are there any critical issues that send your phone into reboot or force you to reset your phone? If yes – you may be using an unstable ROM or ROM/radio combination.

Overall process took me two evenings and a weekend, but right now I am a proud owner of the same old AT&T Tilt (a.k.a. HTC TyTN). However, the new TouchFLO interface with software lock that looks like iPhone’s “Slide to unlock” (you actually have to slide your finger to unlock the phone, but still get to use your favorite Windows Mobile OS – isn’t it cool?), updated Mobile Internet Explorer and Opera browser, clean Windows Mobile 6.1 installation with updates and fixed GPS connectivity. And plenty of memory is available to install more stuff as I need.


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