Windows Vista: Not necessary, but nice

We installed the new Vista operating system in one of our computers, and Joy is having so much fun trying out all the new bells and whistles that she hardly wants to do any work. Bob, as resident curmudgeon, is displaying his famous shrug.

Despite the fact that installing Windows Vista violates the first rule of computing, “Never buy anything with a low serial number,” Bob was willing to do it because he didn’t want everyone to think we had fallen asleep at the switch. And Joy said it wasn’t that expensive. Discounters are selling the Vista Home Premium version, which includes all the main features, for around $75 (all prices U.S.) through the Marketplace at

We installed Vista on a Hewlett-Packard Media Center PC that we bought for less than $1,000 a year ago. It handled Vista easily. We had trouble getting sound and networked, but after three calls to tech support, we did it. Microsoft provides 90 days of free tech support for Vista owners. The support technicians ranged from good to awful, but at least they were free. Now, to the nuts of the matter:

Everything really is plug-and-play this time. When we plugged in our Logitech webcam, the system automatically installed the necessary software (called a “driver”) for us. The system has the drivers for more than 12,000 components.

The bad news is that it won’t recognize all your old programs from Windows XP and earlier. The Hewlett-Packard Web site ( has a list of 27 incompatibilities, and you can find other lists with a search of the Web. Many more will undoubtedly crop up over the next few months, as has always happened with new operating systems. You may have to buy the latest Vista-ready version of your favorite program or go without.

Vista gives you a choice of doing an upgrade or a “clean install.” We chose clean install, which wiped out nearly a hundred programs we were trying out and were just as glad to see go. It kept all our data files, though. To Joy’s delight, her letters to her Aunt Dee, her recipes, notes, cookbook, etc., were all put in a giant folder called “Windows.old.”

There’s a nice sidebar that appears on the right side of the screen. It has a clock, calendar, news headlines and a bunch of other stuff you can choose to display from a list of “gadgets.” Just click on “gadgets” to see them.

At the end of the day, everything seemed to work smoother and slightly faster than it did in Windows XP. In other words, it’s nice; not necessary, but nice.


We learn a useful trick

It turns out that the Vista operating system won’t open documents created with versions of Microsoft Word earlier than version 2007, which just came out. After all, if it did, you wouldn’t have to go out and buy the new version. (If this sounds too cynical, Bob recalls a line from actress Lilly Tomlin, who once commented: “No matter how cynical I get, I just can’t keep up.”)

But in the beginning was the word, as they say. So, if you download Open Office, which is free from, you can use that to read and edit all your older MS Word docs, or create new ones.

From your lens to their eyes    

We looked at a new instant photo transmission service that is geared for professionals and is currently being used by NBC and some news magazines to let editors see what their photographers are shooting, as they shoot it.

It’s called LightBox Network ( and is surprisingly reasonable. For $20 a month, you get online collaboration tools for photo editing, organizing and distributing. The Live tool, which costs an extra $10 a month, works only with Macintosh computers, but it lets others watch what you’re shooting while you’re shooting it and share notes with you before downloading.

The camera needs to be linked to a computer to get the photos up on the Web site. Then the art director or client, anywhere in the world, can see what’s being shot and make suggestions before the shoot is over. This can be done with a Bluetooth link to a laptop or desktop computer nearby, or by what used to be called “sneakernet.” That’s when someone takes the memory chip out of the camera and plugs it into a computer that’s connected to the Internet. It’s low-tech, but that’s how NBC did it at the Golden Globes awards ceremony.

The LightBox system is somewhat similar to a free service from With Sharpcast, previews of your photos drop instantly into the photo albums of everyone on your “share list.” The instant you update your own album, others can download the photos at full resolution.

But Sharpcast users only share photos and comments; LightBox offers dozens of options for each photo. Viewers can rank them, correct the color, add watermarks, include copyright info and add info about the kind of camera used.

Most LightBox users now work in photography studios and have their cameras tethered to computers. But times are changing. Some photos are now being sent to Web sites through a high-speed cellular network called 3G EVDO. The letters stand for “Evolution Data Optimized.” Photos and other data can be transmitted at 300KB to 700KB per second. A three-megabyte photo would take four to 10 seconds to transmit. You could be out in the field and send photos from your camera wirelessly to your cell phone and from there to the Web. The cost for this service runs about $40 to $60 a month.


Copyright 2007 Universal Press Syndicate


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