A Windows 7 installation disk can be tweaked to install any version of the operating system, according to a popular newsletter revealed.

By deleting one small text file from a Windows installation DVD, users can choose to install any of five different editions, giving users a “try-before-buy” opportunity before upgrading to a more expensive edition, said Woody Leonard, a contributing editor to the Windows Secrets newsletter.

Leonard published step-by-step instructions that walked users through the process on Windows 7 RTM, or release to manufacturing, the final build of the operating system that Microsoft has already shipped to computer makers and distributed to IT professionals and developers.

The procedure hinges on deleting the “EI.cfg” file on the installation media, said Leonard. According to Microsoft documentation, “EI.cfg” is a Windows Setup-specific configuration file used to determine what edition and licence will be used during installation. Earlier versions of Windows used a file called “PID.txt” for the same purpose.

“If you have a physical Windows 7 installation DVD … [you can] use either gBurner or ISO Recorder to rip the DVD into an .iso file,” said Leonard, “then follow the instructions above to delete the EI.cfg file and burn a new DVD.”

Leonard recommended a pair of CD/DVD tools, including gBurner System’s gBurner and ISO Recorder 3.1, for transforming the installation DVD into an .iso file. Once they have an .iso in hand, users can then delete the “EI.cfg” file and then burn the .iso file to a new, blank DVD for installation.

Although the process is elaborate, and probably only for the technically astute, Windows Secrets editor Brian Livingston said it was really the only way for users to try different versions of Windows 7 before they plunk down their money.

I think this would be of great interest to corporate IT administrators,” said Livingston. “They will be able to put [Windows 7] Professional on one machine, and Home Premium on another to test each out before deciding which to buy for what group of employees.”

The procedure also offers a way to try out a more expensive edition of Windows 7 before paying for an Anytime Upgrade, the in-place updates that let users bump up to a higher version. Microsoft sells an Anytime Upgrade from Windows 7 Home Premium to Professional for $90(£54), but doesn’t provide any trial or grace period; users must pony up the money to obtain the key that unlocks the Professional-only bits within Windows 7.

Leonard’s try-before-buying stratagem isn’t original; other users posted instructions on how to delete the “EI.cfg” file to bring up a Windows 7 installation edition choice screen within weeks of the launch of the OS’s public beta last spring.

He was, however, one of the first to confirm that the tactic still works on the final build of Windows 7 that will go on sale 22 October.

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Microsoft had dug itself a cool, deep, dark hole with Windows Vista. Users demanding that Redmond extend the life of Windows XP wasn’t exactly something they could be proud of, either. Bombarded by complaints and negative press even after the first service pack was released, the bar had been set high for Vista’s successor: Windows 7. This review is based on an official copy of the Windows 7 RTM that Microsoft provided to CNET on July 30, 2009.

Luckily for Microsoft, Windows 7 is more than just spin. It’s stable, smooth, and highly polished, introducing new graphical features, a new taskbar that can compete handily with the Mac OS X dock, and device management and security enhancements that make it both easier to use and safer. Importantly, it won’t require the hardware upgrades that Vista demanded, partially because the hardware has caught up, and partially because Microsoft has gone to great lengths to make Windows 7 accessible to as many people as possible.

It’s important to note that the public testing process for Windows 7 involved one limited-availability beta and one release candidate, and constituted what some have called the largest shareware trial period ever. As buggy and irritating as Vista was, Windows 7 isn’t.  Instead, it’s the successor to Windows XP that Microsoft wishes Vista had been, and finally places it on competitive footing with other major operating systems like OS X and Linux.

Microsoft is offering six versions of Windows 7: Starter, Home Premium, Professional, Ultimate, OEM, and Enterprise. The three versions that Redmond will be promoting most heavily are Home Premium, Professional, and Ultimate, although Starter will also be available to consumers.

Windows 7 will support both 32-bit and 64-bit systems. The bare minimum requirements for the 32-bit include a 1 GHz processor, 1 GB RAM, 16 GB available hard-disk space, and a DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM 1.0 or higher driver. 64-bit systems will require at least a 1 GHz processor, 2 GB RAM, 20 GB of free space on your hard drive, and a DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM 1.0 or higher driver. A touch-screen monitor is required to take advantage of the native touch features. Do note that some users have claimed to have limited success running the Windows 7 beta with less than 1 GB of RAM, but that’s not recommended.

Installation
Microsoft is offering several paths to install Windows 7. People can buy a new computer with the operating system already installed, upgrade from Windows XP or Vista, or do a clean install on a computer the user already owns. The clean installation took us about 30 minutes, but that will vary depending on your computer.

The upgrade procedure is different depending on whether you’re running Windows XP or Windows Vista. Vista users merely need to back up their data before choosing the Upgrade option from the install disc. Both XP Home and XP Pro users will have to back up their data, then choose Custom from the install disc. Custom will have the same effect as a clean install, although it’ll save your old data in a folder called Windows.old. Once you choose Custom, you’ll need to select the partition of your hard drive that contains Windows XP, and then follow the instructions to enter your product key and allow the computer to reboot as needed.

If you’re not sure if your current computer can run Windows 7, you can download and run the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor from Microsoft.

Features: Taskbar and Aero Peek
Although the look of Windows 7 may seem to be nothing more than some polish applied liberally to the Vista Aero theme, make no mistake: This is a full replacement operating system, and more than just “Vista done right.” From driver support to multitouch groundwork for the future, from better battery management to the most easy-to-use interface Microsoft has ever had, Windows 7 is hardly half-baked.

The first thing that should stand out is the new taskbar. This is one of the best improvements Microsoft has made–third-party program dock makers are going to have to do some serious innovation when Windows 7 goes public. Besides incorporating the translucent style of Aero, the new taskbar is arguably even better than the Mac OS X dock. It features pinned programs using large, easy-to-see icons. Mouse over one and all windows associated with that program appear in preview. Mouse over one of those preview panes to reveal an X to close the window. Hover over the preview to show a full-size preview of the program, or click on the window to bring it to the front. Because of the button size, people with touch screens should find it especially easy to use.

Jump lists are another new taskbar improvement that make recently opened documents easier to get to. Right-click or left-click and drag on any program icon pinned to the taskbar to see a list of files that you’ve recently used in that program. In Internet Explorer, this will show recently visited Web sites, although it doesn’t yet seem to work in Firefox.

If you’ve noticed the missing Show Desktop icon, that’s because it’s been baked into the taskbar itself. Mouse over to the right corner. Hovering over the Show Desktop box reveals the desktop, and then hides it when you mouse away. Click on the box to minimize all your programs.

Aero Peek shows the desktop when you hover over the right edge of the toolbar, and is also an option in the program-switching hot key Alt+Tab. (This image was taken from the Windows 7 Release Candidate, but looks and functions the same in the official version of Windows 7.

Resizing programs has been simplified and improved by the capability to drag a window’s title bar. Drag a program window to the top of your monitor to expand it to full screen. If you want to work in two windows simultaneously, drag one to the left edge and one to the right edge of your screen, and they’ll automatically resize to half the width of your monitor. Dragging a program away from the top or sides will return it to its original size. This is an entirely new feature in Windows 7, but it should prove easy to adopt because it mimics and expands on the maximize/restore button that people have been resizing windows with since Windows 95.

Theme packages also make it much faster to change the look of Windows 7. From the Control Panel, you can change the theme under Appearance and Personalization. Microsoft has created several theme packages to give people a taste for what the feature can do. Click on one to download it, and it instantly changes the color scheme and background–no need to reboot. Users can create their own themes, as well.

Windows Media Player and Device Stage
One of the biggest new features makes Windows Media Player useful again: you can now stream media files from one Windows 7 computer to another, across the Internet and out of network. Even better, the setup procedure is dead simple.

When you open Windows Media Player, there’s a new Stream option on the toolbar. Click it, and you’re presented with two choices. Both require you to associate your computer with your free Windows Live ID. When you’ve associated a second Windows 7’s WMP with that same ID, you can remotely access the media on the host computer. Windows Media Player’s mini mode looks much slicker, emphasizing the album art–sometimes at the expense of clearly seeing the controls, but it’s a definite improvement.

Microsoft reinvigorates the Windows Media Player by allowing users to stream their media files to themselves. All it takes is two Windows 7 computers, an Internet connection, and a free Windows Live ID. (This image was taken from the Windows 7 Release Candidate, but looks and functions the same in the official version of Windows 7.

The new Device Stage makes managing peripherals significantly easier, combining printers, phones, and portable media players into one window. A large photo of the peripheral summarizes important device stats and makes it easy to identify which devices you’re using. Device Stage can also be used to preset common tasks, such as synchronization. Device Stage support for older devices makes one of Windows 7’s best features applicable to peripherals and externals that don’t need to be upgraded. One annoying change is that Bluetooth driver support no longer comes baked into the operating system. If you need a Bluetooth driver, you’ll either need the installation disc on hand or you’ll have to go download it.

Search, touch screens, and XP mode
Windows 7’s native search feature has been improved. Files added to the hard drive were indexed so fast that they were searchable less than 5 seconds later. Search result snippets now include a longer snippet, and highlight the snippet more clearly. This should appeal specifically to people who juggle large numbers of long documents, but it’s a useful feature for anybody who wants to find files faster. However, the search field is available by default only in the Start menu and in Windows Explorer, and cannot be easily added to the taskbar.

Search snippets do a better job of highlighting relevant terms in your documents, exposing useful data even if it’s not in the file name. (This image was taken from the Windows 7 Release Candidate, but looks and functions the same in the official version of Windows 7.

Touch-screen features worked surprisingly well. The hardware sometimes misread some of the multitouch gestures, occasionally confusing rotating an image, for example, with zooming in or out of the image. Overall, though, there were few difficulties in performing the basic series of gestures that Microsoft promotes, and this places Windows 7 in an excellent position for the future, as more and more computers are released with multitouch abilities.

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Windows Live Movie Maker

August 22, 2009

Windows Live Movie Maker

Microsoft has run through several versions of its free Movie Maker application for various Windows platforms, most of them earning a fair amount of criticism. The latest edition, Windows Live Movie Maker 1.0, does easily turn photos and video clips into slide shows and movies, but it is far from perfect. Released from beta on Wednesday, this is functional freeware that’s aimed squarely at the casual consumer crowd. Although mostly easy to use, its toolset and interface lack a certain sophistication that users of all levels would appreciate.

Installation tips

The fresh-out-of-beta Windows Live Movie Maker (not to be confused with Windows Movie Maker, minus the ‘Live’) is compatible with Vista and Windows 7 operating systems only. It comes bundled into the Windows Live Essentials suite of apps, but you can separate it out with a little click-surgery. To get Movie Maker only, you’ll need to uncheck the boxes for the other programs in the suite, leaving Movie Maker selected. Before the app finishes installing, take care to read the penultimate window; if you race ahead, you’ll be changing your default search to Microsoft’s Bing and your home page to MSN.

Windows Live Movie Maker installation

Windows Live Movie Maker comes bundled in a software suite.

Interface

With its visual ribbon of menu actions, Windows Live Movie Maker emulates the look and feel of Microsoft Office 2007 applications. The preview window is portioned out to the left of the screen and the gallery of photos and clips you’ll import sits on the right. Interestingly, tool tips appear above the Edit, Options, and Format tabs to alert you that these are the menus for video, audio, and text tools. These tabs disappear when you’re not using them. While we like this feature, we also wonder why Microsoft didn’t just name the original tabs “video,” “audio,” and “text,” and dispense with the highlighted tabs above the tabs.

Making instant movies

Microsoft’s emphasis on the visual hits home when you get started. In addition to adding photos and video clips through a menu button, you can drag and drop them into the storyboard. Likewise, you can click and drag to move clips around. For extremely simple movie-creation, after you arrange the clips, a click of the AutoMovie button (in the Home tab) ties the clips together with a title, transitions, and pan and zoom effects. If it doesn’t add a song clip for you, it prompts you to select one (again, through the Home tab.) Automating movies and slideshows this ways is a great two-second option for casual or time-stressed users. After all, you can always tweak later.

Here’s a hint: there’s an optimal time to start AutoMovie. If you haven’t saved your project, Windows Live Movie Maker titles it “My Movie” and closes it with “The End.” It’s harmless, but numbingly generic. If you save first and automate the movie after, the software will title your piece as you saved it. Thus, “Yosemite Trip 2009” instead of “My Movie.”

Tweaking filled-in titles, captions, and credits isn’t difficult, so long as you remember to double click to edit, not right-click. You’re able to change colors, placement, and font type through the menu, and you can click and drag elements in the preview window and along the timeline; for instance, if you’re delaying the moment an opening credit shows.

You can similarly change transitions (called animations here), as well as pan and zoom effects, just by selecting a new one from the Animations tab. On one hand, it’s convenient to see a preview when you mouse over each transition or effect. On the other, it quickly becomes dizzying when you’re hunting for the right one.

Windows Live Movie Maker effects

Quickly preview animations and visual effects.

Adding music, editing video

Like any good slideshow or movie tool, Windows Live Movie Maker can pluck audio gems from your music collection. The tools are basic, even a little rough, but there are some necessities–fade-ins and fade-outs, for instance, and fitting the song to your movie’s duration. The AutoMovie tool can help you apply a track, but it won’t automatically turn on fading, a drawback in our opinion. Adding music at current points also requires a learning curve.

Most videos can handle a healthy trim on either end to get to the meat of the action. Windows Live Movie Maker boasts both trim and splitting tools, so you can shave or hack off slow sections. You can also set start and end points and apply fades.

Microsoft provides a list of all compatible image and video file types here.

Publishing and sharing

When it comes time to share the memories, you’ll visit the Sharing bay on the Home tab. The quick-button options within can e-mail the finished video, burn it to DVD, or upload it to YouTube (you’ll need an account). Windows Live Movie Maker can also upload to Facebook via a plug-in, save in HD format for you to transfer to your TV (standard or wide-screen), and can convert the video to a mobile phone-friendly format.

Windows 7-only

Windows Live Movie Maker looks almost identical on Vista and Windows 7, but it does take advantage of two underlying Windows 7 features. First, there are jump lists, which will give quick access to recent projects and finished movies. Second, it supports QuickTime MOV and QT files, AVCHD, and MPEG-4 video formats. As a reminder, this version is not available for Windows XP.

Windows Live Movie Maker tool menu

Highlighted tabs clue you into editing tools.

Overall look and feel

Compared to Apple’s polished, elegant, and feature-packed iMovie, Windows Live Movie Maker is a crude imitator. However, its comparatively spartan interface should also make it more inviting to novices. The menu tabs that disappear when not in use help keep tasks focused. AutoMovie saves time and gives movie makers a starting-off point to further customize. The few intermediate tools (like fades, start and end points) add variety, though the online FAQs found by clicking the Help menu (the question mark icon) fail to explain their use; you’ll need to hit up Microsoft’s forums for more details if you get stuck.

All in all Windows Live Movie Maker is decent freeware that lives up to its promise of making movies fast. Regardless, Microsoft would do well, at the very least, to build more sharing plug-ins and a fleshier Help menu.

You can start getting acquainted with Microsoft’s online overview.

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MSI has announced five new additions to their C-Series notebook line that promise a decent selection of specs and starting prices as low as $549. There are three 16-inch models (the CX600, CR600-013, and CR600-017) all of them offering a 1,366 by 768-pixel display resolution and weighing in at 5.4 pounds, while a pair of 17-inchers (CX700 and CR700) sport 1,600 by 900-pixel displays and weigh just under 6 pounds.

All five laptops ship with Vista Home Premium pre-installed, a 320GB hard drive, 4GB of memory, Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi wireless networking, and a 6-cell battery, as well as other laptop standards like a 1.3 megapixel webcam, 4-in-1 card reader, and 3 USB ports. The 16-inch CR600-017 even includes a Blu-ray drive for some HD movie watching. It costs $649 and carries a 2.1GHz Pentium Dual Core T4300 processor, whereas the remaining four models pack a 2GHz Pentium Dual Core T4200.

On the graphics front, budget-conscious shoppers looking for some light gaming capabilities will appreciate the Radeon HD4330 discrete graphics on CX models. Meanwhile, the CR line settles with Nvidia GeForce 8200M G integrated graphics but also offer an HDMI output that could come in handy with that Blu-ray equipped model. Overall, there’s not much to get excited about here but with prices between $549 and $799 there’s not much room to complain either.

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