Do I Need A Computer?
OU Law does not require students to purchase a laptop computer. The law school features three computer labs exclusively for the use of OU Law students, and laptops are made available to students for class presentations. However, if you do not own a computer, your ability to participate in some programs, such as student intranet forums and laptop exams, may be limited.
If you already own a laptop, OU offers limited free phone support for students via the main campus IT Help Desk at (405) 325-HELP. They also offer fee-based hardware and software support services. The Law Information Technology office also provides software support for student-owned laptops on a limited basis.
If you wish to purchase a laptop system, you should be aware of a few facts:
- The Law Center provides only limited software and no hardware support for your system, whether it is a desktop or laptop.
- Use of laptops in the OU Law Library may be restricted to laptop-authorized areas only.
- It may not be allowed in your classroom. This is determined by each professor.
Laptop vs. Desktop
With a few exceptions, mobile computing has supplanted desktop computing, and OU Law IT recommends purchasing a laptop system over a desktop system if the student's budget allows. Unfortunately, while laptop prices have dropped significantly, laptop systems normally cost more than comparably-equipped desktop systems. The portability of a laptop allows a student to sit in the comfortable chairs in the Kerr Student Lounge, connected wirelessly to the network, and interact with fellow students. As far as your choice between a laptop and desktop system, beyond economics and convenience, it is purely a matter of personal preference.
Floppies, ZIP disks, DVDs and CDs have been replaced by USB drives for temporary data storage. Law School Computing Systems do not accommodate Floppies or ZIP disks, however CD-RWs and writable/rewritable DVDs are supported as writeable media. OU Law IT recommends USB drives, known variously as thumb drives, jump drives, or flash drives. They can be obtained in sizes from 128MB to 32GB and can be very inexpensive. They have no moving parts to fail and can be safely carried in your pocket. While they are not suitable for long-term storage and do occasionally fail, they are much better for daily usage and file transfer than other forms of media.
In the past, the Law Center IT Staff made recommendations for minimum and suggested hardware; however, any new computer (and most used computers) will far exceed the minimum requirements for the applications you may need in Law School. If you do choose a desktop over a laptop, USB flash drives and external hard drives are good solutions for transporting files from home to OU Law.
The hardware recommendations for laptop systems are similar to those for desktop systems. For a new laptop, we would recommend an Intel i3 processor (or equivalent) as a baseline processor, with an Intel i7 (or equivalent) as a preferred processor. RAM should be a minimum of 2.0GB, with 4.0GB (or more) being preferred. If you're looking at a used laptop, you should look at an Intel Core2 (or equivalent) laptop or newer. Newer laptops tend to have better performance both from a processing and battery life standpoint, however a used laptop with an Intel Core Duo or equivalent processor would also be a good choice for law school.
If you want to connect to the Law Student Wireless Network, you must have a wireless card that supports WPA (aka WPA-Personal) or WPA2 (aka WPA2-Personal) and 802.11b and/or 802.11g. A word of warning: we have had significant amounts of trouble with the Intel wireless cards, particularly the Intel 2200BG cards. If you are buying a new laptop and have a choice of wireless card, we strongly recommend taking an option that is not Intel branded. For example, on a Dell, we would recommend that you choose one of the Dell Wireless cards.
Laptop displays (screens) come in various resolutions, and two general aspect ratios. Like TVs, many are available in the standard 4:3 ratio; however, most are now available in the "wide-aspect" 16:9. (The aspect ratio describes the ratio of the width of the display to its height.) The resolution of a display is generally expressed as nnnnXyyyy, where nnnn is the width of the display (in pixels) and yyyy is the height of the display (also in pixels). It can also be expressed as its standard resolution designation (eg, XGA, SXGA, WSXGA, etc). See the table to the right for a conversion from resolution designation to numeric resolution figures. When we're talking about pixels, you can think of them as lines of resolution, so an SXGA display has 1024 vertical lines of resolution and 1280 lines of horizontal resolution. As you might guess, the higher the resolution for a given screen size, the finer the details you can see on the display.
In some applications, this means you will see smoother lines and curves; in digital images, such as digital photographs, they will look more like their real-life counterparts. When looking at Web pages, this means you will see more of the page on the screen than you would if the resolution were lower. This also leads to one drawback of a higher-resolution screen, which can be an issue if you have less than optimal vision: the higher the resolution is on a given screen size, the smaller the items (most importantly, the text) will appear on the screen.
For example, if you're choosing between WXGA and WUXGA on a 15" display, the text on the WUXGA screen will be a bit more than half the size of the same text on the XGA version. (Because standard and wide-aspect screens have the same vertical resolution (height in pixels), the same holds true if you're comparing WXGA and UXGA; for the same size screen, the UXGA text will be just over half the height of the text on the WXGA display.) There are some ways to work around this issue, but it's something you need to consider when evaluating any computer, particularly when you're looking at a laptop.
The other important issues to be considered when choosing a resolution for your laptop is the aspect ratio. The wide-aspect (W*XGA) displays do have some advantages, but they do have one drawback. If you use your laptop for presentations (which is becoming more likely in law school), you will have to adjust the display for each presentation, because of the rarity of wide-aspect projectors. Many of the projectors in the Law Center can handle up to SXGA resolution, but XGA is a more standard resolution. This is not a major difficulty, but it is something to keep in mind.
While it is possible to run a laptop display at less than its normal resolution, the results are not always desirable. If the display is capable of "scaling", it can run at a lower resolution and still fill the screen; however, some displays do not scale, so you can wind up with the text being the same size, but the display will be surrounded with a black border to make up the difference between the two resolutions: it will actually look like the display has shrunk.
Laptop Warranty considerations
We strongly recommend that you get at least a three-year warranty, preferably with next business day on-site service. If they have a "no excuses" warranty, like Dell's CompleteCare warranty, we would also highly recommend that, as many of the mishaps that befall laptops (such as knocking a glass of water over into the keyboard, damage due to a drop, or cracking the screen by closing the lid with a pen on the keyboard) are not covered under the standard factory warranties.
Operating System: Windows 7 Home Premium
Word Processor: Corel WordPerfect Office X5, Microsoft Office 2010
Communications: Internet Explorer 9 or newer, Firefox 7 or newer
Windows Vista vs. Windows XP vs. Windows 7
If you are ordering a new laptop, your choice will probably be among the versions of Windows 7; although you can upgrade to another version later, purchasing the version of Windows 7 you want pre-installed on the laptop is currently the least expensive way to acquire it. If you have a choice, we recommend Windows 7 Home Premium for law students.
If you are buying a used laptop, or if you already have one, with Windows 2000 (aka Win2K) installed, we would recommend that you upgrade it to Windows XP. If, however, the laptop has Windows XP, we would not recommend upgrading it to Windows 7 at this time; likewise, if your laptop has Windows Vista installed, we would not recommend upgrading to Windows 7.
If you do wish to upgrade your laptop to Windows 7, you can buy it from the Main Campus IT Store at http://itstore.ou.edu/index.asp (opens in a new window) at a reduced price, or you can buy it from Microsoft in a downloadable format at a significantly reduced price at http://www.win741.com/ (opens in a new window).
As of July 2010, Windows 2000 joined Windows 95/98/Me in no longer being supported by Microsoft. As a result, OU Law IT also ceased supporting it. If you are still running any version of Windows older than Windows XP, you will not be able to access the Law Student Wired or Wireless Networks, and, as a result, will be unable to participate in the Exams on Laptops Program using your laptop.
WordPerfect Suite vs. Microsoft Office
The word processors currently available in the Law Center Student Lab are WordPerfect X3 and Microsoft Word 2007. If you want to be compatible with what the Law Center has (eg, you want to be able to print in the Labs or exchange documents with your professors), you should acquire Corel WordPerfect Office X5 or Microsoft Office 2010 (both are compatible with the versions installed in the labs). If you already have a previous version of either package, it is not necessary for you to upgrade, but it is suggested.
The Main Campus IT Store (opens in a new window) carries the Academic version of Microsoft Office, as do many online retailers and stores in Norman. Once you are admitted as a law student and your e-mail account has been created by main campus IT, you will be able to access the online IT Store. Microsoft also sells Office directly to students through their "Ultimate Steal" program, available at http://www.microsoft.com/student/discounts/theultimatesteal-us/default.aspx (opens in a new window)
Macintosh vs. Windows vs. Linux
At this time, we only recommend Windows-based computers for use at the College of Law, but you are free to purchase a computer on whichever platform you choose. If you prefer Linux (or any other non-Windows/Mac O/S), we won't prevent you from using it; we just want you to be aware that your choice may limit your options at the College of Law (for example, you won't be able to access the College's wireless network from a Linux machine).