posted by Thom Holwerda on Fri 14th Nov 2003 02:50 UTC
IconI am waiting for Longhorn. Thus, I was very interested in the new 4051 build. Here are my findings.

Disclaimer: I first want to state that the software being previewed is in [pre-]alpha, meaning that every feature, every bug, and every other thing can be completely different from the final product, currently due two to three years from now. I wish to state this obvious thing here, so that I do not need to emphasize it every time. Most importantly, I wish to state that the GUI presented in this build is temporary.

Installation

Click for a larger version The new installation procedure for Windows is really a step forward, especially if you look at it from the end-user's point-of-view, since the 'text'-based part from the XP install has been removed. I do not think an installation can get much easier than this, I believe only LindowsOS 4.0 is more easily installed.

Still, there were two glitches during the installation that are worth mentioning. The first problem I encountered can be seen as my own fault, but, on the other hand, also as a shortcoming from Microsoft's side. I created a partition for this new build using DiskDrake in my main OS, Mandrake 9.2. I rebooted using the Longhorn CD, only to encounter, after two thirds of the install, an error, stating that Windows Install could not initiate the third stage of the install. After some time I found out the problem: I accidentally created an extended partition for 4051 with DiskDrake. Of course this can be seen as a mistake from my side (I should have created a primary one, obviously), but I do not think that that is the whole story. In 2003, you should expect Windows to recognize the fact that the partition I selected was an extended one, and it should have warned me at the beginning. Of course you could also say that in 2003, Windows should have the ability to install on an extended partition, but that is a different story.

I created a primary partition and the problem was solved. But only to encounter another bug: Windows did not install its bootloader! It did erase my LiLo, but it did not replace it with anything else, leaving me unable to boot into Longhorn. I actually had to install LiLo again to boot into Longhorn. Touchˇ...

First Impressions

Sidebar. That is the word that pops into my mind when speaking about first impressions. That thing is really big, black and ugly. I have got nothing against sidebars (if you do, try QNX, its sidebar rocks!), but the one in this build is just too 'present'. It might have to do with the fact that the sidebar is nearly empty, and that when filled with plug-ins, it is going to look all nice and pretty. But for now, it is better to just minimize the darn thing. The only five items (tiles) you can add to the sidebar in this build are the system tray, quicklaunch, the clock, a slide show (never quite understood what that is good for anyway), and a 'sync' tile, which synchronizes, for example, the available Offline Web Pages. Since I do not use Offline Web Pages at all, it is quite a useless tile to me, but, then again, that is just me.

Click for a larger version A lot has been said about the new 'Slate' theme for this build. Before I actually used Slate, I was very skeptical. Judging by the screenshots released all around the net, I found it too big, too much wasted space, and so on. But now that I have used for a few days, I can say that there is absolutely nothing wrong with it at all. The screenshots on the web must have been pretty low-res, and thus making the widgets look larger. But, as you can see by my 1280x1024 screenshots, the widgets aren't that big and clumsy. They are way smaller than in Luna. The use of black is a relief, a huge improvement compared to the sugarcoated Luna.

Outlook Express 7 And Internet Explorer

IE has been given some new features and a new coat. New features are the download manager and the pop-up blocker. I know, not really innovative, but still very useful. And about the new layout, I love it! It brings forward the features you use the most (back/forward and address bar) and puts the lesser-used features on the background (stop, reload etc.). This will probably be a personal thing, but I like it. Please try not to judge before you have actually used it. I was also skeptical, but I have changed my mind.

There is not much to say about Outlook Express 7, on the other hand. It mainly has gotten a make-over, but nothing very impressive crossed my path during use (exception is the new way you manage contacts, but more later on this subject). And if you forget the security issues involved, OE has always been a pretty good email-client (yes, it must be said), so any changes aren't really necessary. There is only one thing I do not understand: why haven't they incorporated the vertical preview pane? That is really a mystery to me, as it can be found in Outlook 2003.

Compatibility

Something also kind of important is whether older applications/drivers will work when using 4051 (although I do not think anyone is going to use this build in a production environment).

Click for a larger version The first driver I tried to install was the Ate Catalyst driver, version number 6.14.10.6396, for my ATI Radeon 9000 video card. This would prove to be impossible. After the install failed, it advised me to try to set the default VGA driver first, but this would not help either. I was forced to use the ATI driver supplied by Microsoft, version number 6.14.10.6368. Not really a problem though, as this driver seems to be working just fine, but still, I like to have the latest drivers installed.

The second driver I wanted to install was my soundcard driver, a C-Media 8738-based 5.1 soundcard. This driver installed without a hassle. Applications I tried to install ranged from MSN Messenger 6.1 (ran just fine), Office 2003 Beta II (custom install including: Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook 2003, all worked seamlessly), Opera 6.21 (my favorite browser, also ran without a hassle), and the same goes for my other favorite browser, FireBird 0.7.

Of course I cannot try every application, but given the fact that the above seem to work just fine, I assume that the number of incompatible programs is small.

Table of contents
  1. "Longhorn, Page 1"
  2. "Longhorn, Page 2"
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