Windows 7 Eunach edition is out for pre-order

So Windows 7 has just appeared in online stores for pre-ordering. The pre-order deal is also very competitive. Except, it was. The news was announced yesterday and I jumped on to Amazon to get some prices and they were about £80 for the Home Professional version. Amazon have since mailshotted customers announcing the news, headling a price of £44.97, which I suspect is for the Home Premium version.

However, clicking through or searching for Windows 7 in Amazon now displays nothing more than a “Be notified when this product becomes available” message, alongside a reminder about the limited time period.

European users should look closely at the box, though. We’re special, because we get a special version, “Windows 7 Home Professional E”, “Ultimate E”, etc. The “E”, I guess, stands for “Europe”. In the top left hand corner of the box is the message “Windows 7 Home Premium E: Requires a web browser to access the Internet. Internet Explorer not included*”.

This is doubtlessly down to the European Union’s aggression towards Microsoft. Rightly or wrongly, Europe has an axe to grind where Microsoft are concerned. Citing anti-competitive practices, they have caused the creation of special SKUs particular to the European market with no Media Player before now, but now with no web browser.

Several questions jump out at me.

In the age of the connected operating system, what use is there in an OS with no web browser? The first thing a user typically does when they install a new OS is to jump on the Internet to download updates, install the latest drivers for hardware or just browse around while the OS completes its installation work. Doesn’t look like this will be possible for us.

If there is no browser in the box, how do you download a browser, without a browser? Maybe there is a splash screen that allows you to download a browser from a finite list of “approved” browsers such as Internet Explorer or Firefox. Isn’t this “approved list” just as anti-competitive?

Local, off-line content may need a web browser just as much as an Internet connected machine. Many software applications use the IE component in particular to display help information, or enhanced splash screens/dashboards. How will these programs work, if at all? Just because you may not be on the Internet, doesn’t mean you don’t need a web browser. How can a user install a web browser to facilitate this function with no Internet connection?

This really winds me up. This will only cause slower browsers like Firefox to become more popular and increase the variety of browser standards which will mean compatibility with systems and web sites can only get worse, which is annoying after Microsoft have done so much to improve issues with IE 8. An end user is not going to know the value of IE over Firefox, Chrome over IE or some open source browser some geek has coded in his bedroom over a reputable, supported browser. They want to use their computer to get on the internet, fast.

This is typical European legislation getting in the way of common sense. It makes me want to vote for the BNP and reduce their effects, though common sense and basic intelligence means I won’t do this. What is their next step? After removing Media Player, and now Internet Explorer, will they remove Windows Explorer – after all if it is the default GUI/shell then isn’t that anti-competitive?

As an aside, I noticed yesterday Ultimate edition was down as a “notify when becomes available” whereas the lower-end SKUs were available for pre-order. I do hope Ultimate will have a price before the reduced prices expire, otherwise they may raise the prices, then release Ultimate for purchase meaning those who want Ultimate have to pay full price, or twice for Professional version then use the AnyTime upgrade path to get to Ultimate.

Moving from Windows Media Centre

I’m a big fan of taking control of your life by not living your life around TV schedules. I have been committed to the use of Personal Video Recorders (PVRs) for many years, starting with the ultimate nirvana of PVRs, TiVo. TiVo was a product before its time, when I explained the benefits, people just didn’t “get it”. Now, with Sky+ (an inferior product in many ways) with its more useful marketing campaign, many people now understand the benefits of leaving your TV viewing to an intelligent device that records your TV and allows you to watch it when you’re ready.

TiVo was the best product, but its lack of development and commitment to the UK market (it’s a big story in the US) led to me being forced to alternatives. Sky+ was never an option, as it is an inferior product with numerous usability issues. I also resent paying an additional fee for a service I receive with a basic subscription anyway (the required guide data). This left me to the adoption of Windows Media Centre 2005. This required the building and careful preparation of a Home Theatre Personal Computer (HTPC) to be able to process incoming video data, storage and simultaneous playback. Windows Media Centre has proved the hub of our media needs for the last 5 years and has been ideal. We’ve moved from Windows Media Centre 2005 through Vista and now Windows 7. The XBox extender system also allows us to relay content around the house very easily.

Using Windows 7 Media Centre has not been as pleasurable as Vista Media Centre. It’s much slower to use and even on a 100Mbps network video frequently breaks up. The music catalogue also requires rebuilding whenever you view the music library. I don’t know whether these issues are related to Windows 7 being in beta (I’m using the Release Candidate) but the WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) is low. I’d be happy to put up with it but for some reason BBC2 isn’t switched using the infra-red sender so we have to be on constant watch for BBC2 recording. Obviously, this is against the point of a PVR.

Windows Vista supports HD content, but not in the UK. Apparently, Windows 7 does support UK HD which is great because HD content from BBC HD is awesome and is a key reason why I have adopted the Freesat from the BBC option. So we decided to give the Humax Foxsat HDR FreeSat+ PVR a try. This will allow us to record HD content (previously we would have had to watch it live) along with SD content.

I’ll leave other people to review it as a product, I’m just going to give my feedback. Overall, I’m not that impressed. There is no Component Video sockets, which is a real shame as I have limited HDMI sockets and I would have preferred not to use an HDMI socket for content that is less than 1080p, which DVB-S HD cannot achieve (not in the UK anyway). The guide itself is a little sluggish and there is only 8 days of guide data. A screensaver appears whenever the screen becomes static which is frustrating as I happen to like frozen screens and LCDs are much less prone to screenburn than conventional CRT displays. Either way, I would like the option to turn this screensaver off. I’m not using a second LNB feed so conflicts will be a problem for me. One such conflict has just occured, with the device trying to turn the channel over at Championship Point in the 2009 Wimbledon Men’s Final. Whether or not I pressed a button or the device switched over I cannot be sure, but it did switch and then I could not switch it back. Typing “108″ to revert to BBC HD would not work. Consequently, I missed about 2 minutes of the climax of the final, ruining two weeks of tennis for me.

The device is pretty good, but I don’t think it is going to work for us in the longer term. Maybe we have been spoilt by the high quality of Windows Media Centre. In the shorter term, I’m keen on reducing my electricity usage, which is why I bought this device. (It uses just 1W on standby.) For “newbies” to DVRs or certainly users of the appalling Sky+ implementation, it’s well worth it, particularly for HD recording. But for me, I think I’m going to upgrade my Windows Media Centre PC for Windows 7 when it comes out and have another go. It still offers the best and most flexible solution.


After a few days of using it, I’ve found more poor design decisions:

  • For some reason, while the device is recording, you cannot delete *other* programmes.
  • When the device is recording, it is possible to turn over the channel. It is not clear whether the recording completes or not.
  • When time slipping, it is not possible to use the Red-button. Fair enough, but moving to Live TV by pressing Stop also does not permit Red-button services.

A few more weeks/months later …

  • When watching a recording programme and timeslipping, once the recorded programme ends, “live” viewing is resumed so you have to rewind back to the position you had time slipped to.

I’m counting the days till I get a Haupaugge DVB-S card for Windows 7 Media Centre.