I’m setting up five laptops for use as classroom machines. Five is certainly beginning to approach the cusp of wishing that we had some kind of imaging software that would allow a single setup to be cloned to the other machines. These are Inspiron machines from Dell which cost about $650 (including Windows 7 Home Premium 64 bit). The hardware is OK…they come as a glossy black plastic machine with a typical full-sized Dell keyboard and a very adequate 15″ screen. While configuring, I installed a wireless Microsoft mouse, but the touchpad works well too.
The machines come with a 64bit version of Windows. The main advantage of this is that the machine can comfortably address more than 4 gigabytes of RAM. It doesn’t appear to speed things up at all, and indeed the machine takes forever to log off, (two-three minutes) and reboot, and the login also takes more than 30 seconds. Another disadvantage is that the 64 bit version of Windows requires 64-bit drivers for any hardware (such as printers), which can be an inconvenience when tracking down printer drivers. So, as a recommendation, the 64 bit version of Windows does not appear to have any advantage for an ordinary user, and indeed may even have additional disadvantages.
There is a batch script which asks for the name of the initial user account. On a couple machines this appeared to go forward after accepting a couple characters…. and there is no “back” button. So, the machine inadvertently creates a lame account name. When changing the account name, it doesn’t change the folder that the account uses, so now I’m stuck with an account called Student which has a local folder called Studnet.
Dell has made something of the fact that it doesn’t install a lot of crapware on its machine anymore, and indeed we don’t have to remove AOL. Still, there is an amazing array of tweaks to apply, and still a surprising amount of software to remove, much of it from Dell, but also default software from Windows. The default installation comes with a variety of pop-ups (Macaffee, Dell system restore,) and an almost constant stream of messages about the virus status, Silverlight updates, etc. Here is our current list of changes:
1. Change Desktop Theme back to Windows default
2. Reassign computer name — Requires reboot
3. Uninstall Dell Dock
4. Uninstall GoToAssist
6. Uninstall Windows Live
7. Uninstall Windows Live Additional Components
5. Uninstall McAffee anti-virus, etc., etc. (requires a restart) (takes a long time.)
6. Install Microsoft Office 2007
Add the 25 character Product Key
Customize — not available: Access, Office InfoPath, Outlook
Open up Word: Accept Updates
In Internet Explorer
7. Change home page
8. Change Search Provider from BING to Google
9. Download and install updates
10. Download and install Windows Security Essentials
Requires an update to SilverLight
Does a long scan
11. Open a PDF file to get rid of initial issue with licensing Adobe Acrobat
12. Install Logmein
The upshot is that it is really over with Windows XP and that is OK. Windows 7 seems to be better and more secure on many counts. Windows Security Essentials appears to be a great alternative to third-party virus scanner and malware scanners. Setup is still a pain; I think I’m averaging about 1.5 hours per machine….and even at the point that I’ve got them set up here, I have to take them to their ultimate end-site, and install the wireless networking and printer drivers for the local site.