Thoughts & Reviews

Entries in technology (2)


Windows 7 Firewall

Since I'm currently on on pay-as-you go mobile broadband until I get a proper connection, I've been watching how much data I'm transferring.  At £15 per GB, it's an issue.

It's surprising just how much data you burn through.  Websites are flashier, and almost every application you run has an auto-update feature or automatic download of some description.  With that in mind, seeing my bandwidth usage climb from 10MB to 50MB within a couple of minutes of opening Winamp prompted me to take another look at the Windows Firewall.

My last look was when I was still using Vista.  The options amounted to turning the firewall on and off, and the ability to add exceptions (ie. allow communications) on a per-app basis.  Very basic, though that's all it needs to be for most users.  The first thing I noticed in the Windows 7 Firewall is the "Advanced settings" item.

W00t.  A nice list of fully-editable firewall rules, split into outbound and inbound.  You can add your own rules and apply them to applications, computers/IP addresses, ports, specific networks, and even services.  Winamp and iTunes are now blocked so I can actually use them while I'm online without worrying about them eating my credit.  It's also very handy for blocking apps that you'd rather only use in an "offline" mode (such as "Games for Windows Live" - no more spying on my gaming), or those background apps and updaters that never seem to stay disabled.  Like the nigh-immortal Adobe updater.

This is the sort of functionality that was previously only available with 3rd-party products - but built-in, free and on by default.  In addition, Microsoft Security Essentials - anti-virus from MS using the same technology as their enterprise-level solutions - is available for free, though not installed by default.  This adds up to security that I'm actually comfortable with... for free.



Microsoft has Graphophobia.

Today at work (a tech support line), I found myself with another caller who couldn't locate internet explorer's address bar or the start button.

This isn't because they're stupid.  They just don't know that the nice shiney windows logo at the bottom-left corner of the screen has a name.  They don't know that websites have domain names that should be typed in a specific location - I've lost count of the number of timesI've asked someone to type and received a verbal description of a Google search results page in return.

This never used to be an issue.  Internet Explorer used to have the word "address" in front of the address bar, and a "go" button after it.  If I wanted someone to delete the contents of the address bar I'd say "delete the text in the address bar at the top of the screen."  Now I say "delete everything in the bar that starts with 'HTTP,' at the top of the screen"  The Start button used to be exactly that, a button with the word Starton it.  Now it's "the windows logo at the bottom-left corner of the screen."

The "back" button in Windows Explorer or a web browser is "the blue circle with an arrow pointing left at the top-left corner."

The latest - and worst - example of Microsoft's fear of text is the Windows 7 taskbar.  Now I love Windows 7, it's a fantastic product.  It looks delicious.  It is highly responsive.  Home Group removes the arcane collection of settings & tweaks required for 2 windows PCs to, after hours of tinkering, finally see each other's shared folders & printer over the bloody network.  I can drag objects around the taskbar so the order is "just so."  Pinning items to the taskbar is a highly intuitive and convenient way of maintaining a permanently visible shortcut to an app, game or file.

But who on earth thought that removing the names of items on the taskbar by default would be a good idea?  Probably - and this is just a guess - probably someone who is intimately familiar with using windows already, or someone who wanted a way to force people's attention to the window previews.

In Windows 7, the text labels are disabled by default and multiple windows are stacked up even when the taskbar is not full.  To the new and/or non-technical user this means that shortcuts look the same as open windows.  Subtle differences in appearance distinguish shortcuts from open windows and stacks of open windows.  In its default configuration the Windows 7 taskbar is just a big splodge of nameless icons.

However, enable text labels and it transforms into a logical and intuitive method of managing always-visible shortcuts and open windows.  And it's all down to a simple distinction : shortcut icons have no text labels, open windows do.


You can restore the taskbar's text labels through the following method:

1: Right-click the taskbar, click Properties.

2: Change the "Taskbar buttons" setting to "comine when taskbar is full" or "Never Combine."

3: Click OK.