27 June 2007

New Vistas

Holiday snaps

Welcome to Cyberspace (suggestions for a new name gratefully accepted) for another year! For those who've taken digital photos over Christmas you might want to consider Panoramio (http://www.panoramio.com/). I found it while using Google Earth to research a trip to New Caledonia. Basically it allows you to upload your photos to their web site to share with family, friends, or the public at large if you're proud of your photographic skills. However, it also allows you to link a photo to a specific location on Google Earth, and it then becomes visible on the Google Earth map for that location. Earth users can click the push-pin on the map and see your photo of that location. I put a few up from my time at North West Cape in WA and it was refreshing to locate those memories on the map. Further, while inside Panoramio you can see photos taken by other people at the same location (useful if yours were blurry).

Another vista you'll come across this year is Microsoft's Windows Vista (http://www.microsoft.com/windowsvista/). It's a new operating system that replaces Windows XP and Windows Media Centre. If you buy a new PC from now on it will likely have Vista on it instead of XP. Alternatively you can go to a PC shop and buy a copy to upgrade an existing machine. It adds lots of security features as well as usability improvements and a shiny new interface (which you can turn off). I've been using it for a few months and I like it (after some significant hardware upgrades!).

Should you upgrade an existing machine? My advice is "no". Vista definitely has some improvments over XP, but it also has higher hardware requirements and most existing machines will not demonstrate all the benefits. The answer is an even louder "no" if you are thinking about upgrading your office PCs. While I have found that Microsoft Office and many other products work normally under Vista, there are some that break, and you don't want that to happen to your accounting software, digital dictation system, conveyancing package or other critical systems. So, make sure you run Windows Update (http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com), have good anti-virus software and run anti-spyware such as Spybot (http://www.spybot.info) weekly.

Should you get Vista on a new PC? The same considerations apply for your office PC. Do you need to run existing important applications? If so, you'll need to do some compatability testing before you can put that machine into action in the office. Another very important consideration is that Internet Explorer under Vista is version 7. I have found that version 7 breaks some of my litigation support software, particularly those that use Flash or Shockwave for parts of the user interface. I haven't tested online legal research sites, but some of the commercial ones may have similiar problems. Check with your vendor first.

Having said all that, if your IT needs are modest and all you do is use Word, Excel, Outlook and the internet then you're probably safe with Vista. However, another question arises with the release of Microsoft Office 2007 (http://tinyurl.com/38fn2t). It's definitely the greatest improvement in seven years to the Office suite. Does it have new features? Sort of... I recently had lunch with the Australian CEO of Microsoft and a few analysts, and I suggested that in one sense the development of wordprocessors and spreadsheets is finished - there just aren't any more features to add. There was general agreement to this, and Microsoft's aim is to make all these features accessible and usable. I think it's done a good job at this; in fact sometimes I can't find features because they're so obvious on the main screen! Macintosh users aren't left out in the cold either - there's a new version for them coming too.

Office Small Business 2007 is available for a free trial download, and it's worth a look. However, you'll need to test it with any software that interacts with it, such as precedent or conveyancing systems. Powerpoint and Outlook in particular have had some terrific improvements.