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New Acer Notebook and Windows Vista

Since I left my old job, I had to buy a new notebook. I have used Compaq and HP for the last four years, but frankly kept having niggling problems that prompted me to look elsewhere. Cost is also an issue, and looking around I found that the best price/quality option for the moment is an Acer Aspire 5580 (specifically, 5584). When I buy a computer my basic principle is to get the best specs possible: I want it to last 3-5 years, so it has to be 'future-proof'. So, the Acer 5584 has what I was looking for: Intel Core 2 Duo, DVD writer, Bluetooth and Vista Premium; it also has a large hard drive (120GB), a webcam and 1GB of RAM. The recommended retail was RM3888, and I got it down to RM3488 on cash terms. It comes with two 512GB sticks of RAM, but I wanted 2 GB, so I had to trade in them to get two 1GB sticks for RM200. Total: RM3688 (USD 1088).

So far so good, though it doesn't seem massively faster than before: a restart is quiker though... I am used to a 15" screen, so this one (14.1") is significantly smaller. No one seems to do 15" anymore, and 15.4" wouldn't fit in my backpack (which may not be a great reason I agree...).

I wouldn't have gone for Vista yet if I could have avoided it, as there are sure to be some compatibility issues and the like, but so far it's fine (touch wood!).

Here are some comments:

Games: Microsoft has finally gone beyond the same old games it's been using for years. There's chess, mahjong (of the clear-the-pairs-of-tiles kind), 'Ink Ball' (an interesting one, where you draw lines to bounce coloured balls into the right holes, though it is kind of fiddly with a laptop touchpad), and "Purble [not 'Purple'] Place" which has three simple games designed for young children with cartoony graphics and characters to guide you.

The much-vaunted 'Aero' system looks nice but doesn't really add much functionality. Basically you can cycle through the windows open on your desktop - like the Alt+Tab system, but with actual pictures of the content of the windows.

Happily, my Microsoft Natural keyboard, and trusty old A4 Tech wireless optical mouse, connected via an old USB hub (iBox MiniDock), installed and worked seamlessly. I was kind of expecting to have to get new drivers/hardware :-)
Files and settings transfer: this is a feature that can transfer all your files and settings (not programs though) from one computer to another, and also from XP to Vista. Seems like a good idea, but... I tried to set it up to use the CD, and even though I had already removed all my heavy music and photo files it somehow managed to collect 17 gigabytes of data to transfer - I reckon that one really needs the cable that can be bought for it to work effectively, or use an external drive. So I just abandoned the effort - it's a pity as I like to customise my own toolbars in Word and Excel, numerous shortcuts via the AutoCorrect options in Word, and various hot keys.

I've just spent 20 minutes trying to find where I downloaded the file from and can't find it on Microsoft's site... >:[ Anyway, the filename was " tfrcable_x86 " ...

There's also an "Easy Transfer Companion" which works together with it (it also transfers programs and program settings), but note that it's a Beta that only works with US English, which means if you have UK English settings, or something else, it doesn't work.

Here's someone else who had an unhappy experience with it too, sadly it's something I come to expect from Microsoft... This is a Microsoft blog with relevant information

Which brings me to another issue - using an external hard drive that is formatted under XP may go funny with Vista... When I first tried it, it worked but there was no way to use the 'Remove hardware safely' option as my drive did not appear there, so I shut down instead. The next time I tried it didn't see the drive at all - so I decided not to count on it, which resulted in a very long session (hours and hours...) of burning multiple CDs on my old laptop to back everything up. However I had no choice but to put all my music (about 14GB) and pictures on the external drive anyway. Now I just tried and it's working again - so I'm transferring everything over while I have the chance! Now it seems to work fine, which would have saved me much toil...

There are is apparently a number of issues with external drives: see here, or here

The new version of Opera (9.21) installs and works fine. Amongst other things, it has a nifty new "Speed Dial" feature which is nice: basically, up to nine websites can be accessed just by typing a number (1-9) in the address bar.

By the way, I'd recommend Opera to anyone out there - it has a number of nice features (e.g. 'Duplicate': opens another tab with the same page, and with all the 'memory' of the page, so you can open one new duplicate, and go back to your search page, for example, while keeping the new one open). It also has good cookie control; basically I can set it to refuse all cookies except for chosen sites, a nice default. On the downside, there is the occasional page site that does not display properly, at which point I switch to Firefox.

iTunes: my favourite music player, downloaded and installed fine. The computer started having short lags, but it seems fine after a reboot. There are apparently still some known issues, here and here.

Something with Vista which is kind of annoying is the 'User Account Control' (UAC), which is a much vaunted key security feature. It's a firewall that works like what I'm used to seeing with Zone Alarm, i.e. it warns you when programs try to access important areas, and the like. Good idea, but what is annoying is that - for example - every time I boot up it asks me if I want to run Symantec or not: there doesn't seem to be an option to say 'Always do this from now on'. It also asks me each time if I want the Microsoft firewall to start... duh! The UAC is discussed a bit in a blog by "A Simple Software Security Guy at Microsoft!"; the last (unanswered) comment makes the same point as I do.

There's a better search engine, a lot quicker than before, but I still prefer Google Desktop because it gives some idea of how the context of the search term in the file: e.g. I search for 'Bourdieu' and loads of files come up, but with the Vista search I don't know what's in the file; with Google Desktop I can see the sentence with the search term (just like the usual online Google results).

OK, there's a lot more in fact: sidebar widgets (OK), new Explorer layout (haven't made up my mind yet), a file encryption option (dunno), and more no doubt...

I also got Office 2007, and Word does look very different:

this is what you get when you click on the 'Reference' menu items(there is an interesting looking 'Bibliography' option)

This may take some getting used to, however I think it's also possible to revert to the older system, and it still takes Word 2003 key sequences (e.g. Alt + T + A to get to AutoCorrect), even though the 'Tools' menu is not there anymore.

Enough! That's it for the long geeky post. I will update with anything relevant over the next month.


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karin vanderline-barrett on :

How do I get Standard emoticons like :-) and ;-) to be converted to images

julian on :

I don't know how it's done technically, but for example on this site it's just an option that comes with the software. I think that on blogspt - for example - that option is not available...

Acer Mania on :

right now, Acer have great option for their new notebooks, i also have one of them, it is awesome, especially about the price :-)
can't wait to see windows 7 on my acer

julian on :

Good for you :-) I'm still not convinced about Acer, my DVD writer has never been reliable either...

cheap computers on :

The much-vaunted 'Aero' system looks nice but doesn't really add much functionality.

julian on :

I agree, but can I point out that this is the second time you are posting comments for your SEO purposes.
If you want to advertise on my blog, please contact me directly, thanks.

Rugged Depot on :

I haven't heard about Purble Place in a long time. My niece used to play that game a lot. I used to think (and still do) that it's not intellectually healthy or stimulating for kids. For one, the objective of the game is so simple, it almost seems absurd. And second, my niece went around for months confidently arguing with whoever is willing to listen that "purble" is a color. Obviously she's referring to "purple." But as she used to say, misspelled words could not possible go through any computer's complicated systems. Oh well.

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